Minneapolis: Sept. 5 deadline for Central streetcar comments


A $60 million legislative maneuver by Northeast’s State Sen. Kari Dziedzic has pushed Minneapolis streetcars closer to reality. Residents and business people affected have until Sept. 5 to read up and write their comments, and then the matter will go to the Minneapolis City Council.

The first phase of the Nicollet Avenue- Central Avenue or “10-18” streetcar route, named for the current bus routes, would go from Kmart to Kramarczuk’s, as one consultant put it in conversation, the infamous Lake Street-blocking Kmart on Nicollet Avenue, to somewhere between 5th and 8th Avenue in the Old St. Anthony area Northeast.

Charlene Zimmer of ZAN Associates, a consultant acting as project manager for the City of Minneapolis, presented most of the information. She said this area, about one-third of the ideal 9.2 miles, would serve two-thirds of the transit-dependent (non-auto-owning) population, two-thirds of those considered in poverty, and two thirds of the non-whites along the 9.2 miles. This one-third area also contains 90 percent of the projected growth in population and employment, and 90 percent of the affordable housing. Ridership: “9,200 weekly boarding” estimated.

First Ward City Council Member Kevin Reich, who has been pushing streetcars, said that in other cities where streetcars are plentiful, they started with lines of between two and four miles, making it easier to build other phases as the public see how the system works. And coincidentally these projects are sized such that the federal “Small Starts” program can fund them at $180 to $200 million. Tax revenue from the new developments surrounding the streetcar corridor also helps finance future phases.

And that’s the nut of legislation that mayoral aide Peter Wagenius said likely puts this project in good favor with the federal transit folks expected to fund half of the $393 million start. Government and business officials involved in developments ready to pop; several in Downtown and South Minneapolis and the Totino’s property in Northeast, agreed to a “value capture” (similar to tax increment financing) of $60 million dedicated to the project. The improved taxes that their developments pay, compared to vacant buildings, would pay for the streetcar infrastructure, until the $60 million was paid off, and then later be available for the usual purposes: schools, police, fire, etc.

Context: The Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), in its heyday, seeded smaller projects around the city with $20 million per year. The fact of having cooperation in both parts of the city was attractive to federal officials, Reich said.

What if development doesn’t come, then who pays for it? “Council member [Lisa] Goodman raised that very question earlier,” Wagenius said. “That’s why we can’t use just one tool.”

To audience questions about who funds the next phase, and ongoing operation, Wagenius promoted the half-cent metrowide sales tax for transit that Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed. He showed a map that reflected spending that money—a hub-and-spoke system that reaches practically everywhere, and compared it to an earlier and more expensive-per-rider assumption that heavy rail would be needed to encircle the region.

Northeast has lots of vacant and underutilized land with development potential, particularly at Shoreham Yards which met “95 percent” of the criteria Surly Brewing officials set out when they were looking for a Minneapolis location, Reich said. They chose a location on the Green Line already under construction near University Avenue SE. But the experience showed that CP Rail is serious about selling its Central Avenue-bordering land to the right buyer, he said.

So back up just a minute. Zimmer told the 30 residents/advocates Aug. 7 the streetcar choice is not a done deal. A steering committee narrowed the transit choices to three for analysis: streetcar, do nothing, and “enhanced bus.” In the analysis, “enhanced bus” was projected to cost only $94 million and to have similar effects to streetcars in many ways, some better, some not as good.

The one major difference, though the numbers were undefined, was the potential for surrounding development, the presenters said. Research included conversation with all developers who’ve recently invested along the line, it was reported they said streetcars give a permanence that encourages development, buses will not.

There is also a major choice to weigh about where to cross the river: on the Central-Third Avenue bridge which is older, historic, and would need more shoring up, or Hennepin which would need less but is in an already-developed area and might not produce more positive development effect or new riders. And it’s unclear what the engineering would be to hook that segment up to Nicollet Avenue downtown.

Placement of the maintenance and streetcar switching/storage facility was also undefined. Consultants said they would analyze a small number of examples for their environmental impact, but they did not list any for the meeting. “We’ll want it close to the starter track,” Zimmer said.

In conversation after the meeting, one resident said, “Why not bring the streetcar up farther, say to Northrup King, and put the maintenance/storage there?”

It’s suggestions like this, and any other comments or questions, that are appropriate for written discussion up to Sept. 5, and then at the Minneapolis City Council public hearing on the subject (date to be determined). There’s more environmental analysis to be done, and work at the Metropolitan Council (which runs the transit system) to revise their existing transit plans and work on funding and partnerships.

If all funding falls into place on the ideal schedule, “today” construction could start in 2017-2018 with streetcars in operation a couple of years later. Construction could be staged so that businesses would be affected for much shorter times than the “green line” light rail project.

Buses would continue to run in the same areas, even if streetcars are established.

Here’s where to find the presentation slides and the full Draft Detailed Evaluation report: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/nicollet-central/index.htm

Contact Charleen Zimmer, Acting Project Manager for the Nicollet-Central Alternatives Study at 612-251-1920 for questions; comments need to be written to czimmer@zanassoc.com.