Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Minneapolis streetcar moves toward AA phase

View Nicollet-Central streetcar in a larger map

The proposed Nicollet–Central streetcar line in Minneapolis is moving forward and is expected to enter an alternatives analysis (AA) phase a few months from now in January 2012. Last Friday, the Minneapolis City Council took action to begin looking for a consulting company to do the analysis, which is the first phase of study needed to receive federal funding. The route will combine parts of Metro Transit's busy 10 and 18 bus routes into a single fixed-rail service. The buses already carry a combined 18,000 passengers daily, and the 18 passes through the city's densest neighborhood (Stevens Square–Loring Heights).

The AA is one of the first phases necessary to receive federal funding, and generally precedes an environmental review -- an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS). Hopefully the environmental review will go quickly since the planned route is entirely on existing city streets and mostly follows historic streetcar routes. The AA should begin in January 2012 and run through mid-2013.

The route being studied runs about 9 miles from the I-35W/46th Street Station in South Minneapolis up to the Columbia Heights Transit Center, mostly following Nicollet Avenue and Central Avenue along the way (with a brief segment on Hennepin Ave and 1st Ave NE). It's not yet clear what the cost for the entire route would be, but a previous study indicates that a short starter route, such as running the 2.4 miles from Franklin Avenue north to University Avenue and 4th Street SE, would cost around $110 million. If federal funding falls through, the city may be able to build that part of the route on its own by making use of local funding sources such as increased parking fees downtown and special taxing districts.

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