Weigh in on street cars, transit needs at three public meetings in September

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Is it real yet?

The Hiawatha and Central Corridor light rail lines and the Northstar commuter rail line certainly are, and a transit idea that directly involves Northeast and Columbia Heights is making its way through the same sorts of study processes that led to those other, very real, transit lines. Northeast fared well in a couple of recent “streetcar studies,” which have paved the way for another study.

The idea here is to provide efficient transportation from the transit hub at 41st and Central avenues NE, through Northeast and downtown, down Nicollet and all the way to the transit hub at Interstate 35W and East 46th Street.

Residents will get a chance to give their opinions on transit needs in the corridor at three meetings this month. The Northeast session is Thursday, Sept. 27, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the East Side Food Co-op, 2551 Central Ave. NE. Other sessions are planned for Wednesday, Sept. 26, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall; and the same day, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the 5th Precinct Police Station, 3101 Nicollet Ave. S.

The Nicollet-Central Transit Alternatives Study, which started this summer and is expected to conclude next summer, is designed to “identify a preferred transit enhancement which could serve as a first phase of a longer-range vision for transit service throughout the 9.2-mile corridor,” according to information from the Minneapolis Public Works Department, which is conducting the study. “The Project will determine the benefits, costs and impacts of implementing a variety of transit modes and service types, including streetcar and enhanced bus options, to identify a locally preferred alternative for inclusion in the Metropolitan Council’s 2030 Transportation Policy Plan.”

Goals of the study, and planned timing, are:

  • Development of the purpose and need for a transit improvement (Fall 2012);
  • Initial development and screening alternatives (Late Fall 2012/Early Winter 2013);
  • Detailed definition and evaluation of alternatives (Winter/Spring 2013) and
  • Selection of a locally preferred alternative (Summer 2013).

Establishing a “locally preferred alternative,” using criteria the federal government established, is essential to attracting federal transit funds for the project, according to Minneapolis Public Works Project Manager Anna Flintoff. The Metropolitan Council must also approve the plan before federal funds are sought.

The initial investment in major transit projects leads local officials to see federal funding as all but essential to making a project go. Flintoff said modern streetcar lines they have studied cost $30 million to $60 million per mile to build. Enhanced bus service, which might include more frequent service and more pedestrian and passenger amenities such as larger stations and real-time travel information, costs much less, in the $1 million to $3 million per mile range, she said.

While the study corridor is nine miles long, she said, they’re “also looking at a shorter project” that could be a first phase of a multi-phase project that could eventually involve the entire corridor.

“We’re at the beginning of the process,” she said, and “it takes a while to get everything up and ready.

“We really want to hear from people about problems and opportunities, and, as the study moves along, what they think of the various alternatives.”