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Saving half a billion dollars by building better transit.

Network singleThe Network Alignment: Kenilworth 3A + the Midtown Greenway Streetcar (the “Green Line”) would serve more Minneapolis population, employment, commerical nodes, growth centers, transit-oriented development, and transit-dependent riders than any other SW LRT alignment.


Communities between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie are being asked to select the route for SW LRT that will best serve our neighborhoods, cities, and region. The route through Minneapolis has become one of the most controversial decisions.  But recently released preliminary data, combined with long-known facts, lead to a compelling conclusion:  SW LRT through Kenilworth Corridor will cost some $500 million less than the Greenway/Nicollet alignment, while at the same time offer us many more benefits. Both routes through Minneapolis are projected to carry about 27,000 riders a day.  (Incorporating data from Minneapolis’ most recent Comprehensive plan may result in slightly revised estimates.)  In addition, the Kenilworth  LRT will give us the opportunity to start building a robust, cost-effective 21st century transit system that will achieve five important objectives not attained by the Greenway/Nicollet LRT:

  • Serve more Minneapolis employment centers
  • Serve more designated growth centers in Minneapolis
  • Serve more neighborhoods in  Minneapolis that have transit-dependent riders
  • Connect directly with the planned  35W BRT station at Lake Street
  • Encourage more transit-oriented development in the city

We accomplish these objectives by planning SW LRT as an integral link in a larger transit system, the Network Alignment, which combines the less costly Kenilworth LRT with an inexpensive cross-town streetcar connecting the Hiawatha LRT with the SW LRT at West Lake Street.  Travel time between these two transit hubs would be about 14 minutes.  The cost of the Greenway streetcar (referred to as the “Green Line”) would be $100 million, saving taxpayers some $400 million, with far better results than the Greenway/Nicollet LRT.

Employment: Access to jobs drives transit ridership.  Some 70% of transit trips in the Twin Cities are job related. That grows to 80% with the addition of University students. There is just one significant employment cluster in south Minneapolis, the Abbott-Northwestern, Allina, Wells Fargo complex. The Network Alignment serves this important employment cluster, but the Greenway/Nicollet alignment would miss it by three-quarters of a mile.

Growth Centers: The city of Minneapolis has designated four growth centers: downtown, the U of M, Basset Creek Valley, and the Abbott Northwestern, Allina and Wells Fargo complex.[i] The Network Alignment serves 3 of these centers (missing the University) while the Greenway/Nicollet LRT would miss all of these growth centers except downtown.

Transit-Dependent Riders: While both alignments provide connections to the North Side with a stop at Royalston, the Network Alignment also serves the neighborhoods east of Nicollet along Lake Street. These are some of the most transit dependent neighborhoods in Minneapolis.  More population and transit-dependent riders will be served by the Network Alignment than by the Greenway/Nicollet Alignment.  The Green Line will serve all of the Greenway neighborhoods west of Hiawatha, while the Greenway/Nicollet LRT would split the Greenway in two with wealthier neighborhoods west of Nicollet benefiting from LRT and neighborhoods east of Nicollet unlikely to see any rail transit.

Bus Rapid Transit Station: In 2010, the long awaited Bus Rapid Transit service on 35W will begin. The Green Line will connect with the planned Lake Street/29th St. station, but the Greenway/Nicollet alignment will miss this important station by several blocks.

Transit-Oriented Development: Transit stations drive transit-oriented development.  The Network Alignment would have 12 stops in Minneapolis (including 8 on the Greenway and 1 at the Basset Creek development) while the Greenway/Nicollet LRT would have only 9 (4 on the Greenway).

The Data: Much criticism has been leveled against the data by some proponents of the Greenway/Nicollet route.  These criticisms are unjustified.  County staff and consultants are not attempting to mislead the public with inaccurate data.  Ridership forecasts are developed according to FTA guidelines.  Actually, the forecasts are reasonable.  South Minneapolis has a rich network of bus routes which can’t be shortened or eliminated by a Greenway/Nicollet LRT line. This means that bus and rail are competing with rather than complementing each other. The outcome is an ineffective transit network, one costing taxpayers some $500 million. This is bad transit policy.  As we await revised ridership numbers from Minneapolis’ most recent Comprehensive Plan, we must understand the slight ridership gains anticipated are unlikely to offset the high cost of the Greenway/Nicollet LRT.[ii]

Funding: The Greenway/Nicollet LRT faces significant funding challenges:

(1) The Federal Transit Administration would be unlikely to approve the project because of the high cost in relation to the project benefits.[iii]

(2) Under today’s funding scenario, the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) is required to provide 30% of a projects cost. This would be $150 million to fund the increased cost of the Nicollet/Greenway alignment. It will be difficult if not impossible to convince the five counties comprising CTIB to give up nearly two years of revenue and delay their own projects to fund a costly route diversion in Minneapolis.

(3) Both the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and the State of Minnesota are to contribute 10% of the project cost or an additional $50 million each for the Nicollet/Greenway alignment. Securing these funds will also be challenging.

The funding prospects for the Green Line, although by no means easy, are not so challenging.  The Green Line has many of the qualities of a potentially successful transit project: low-cost, below-grade railroad corridor, located near a major intra-city commercial corridor, in a corridor with proven potential for transit-oriented development, and with strong community support.  Streetcars have been proven to be an effective component of well-designed urban transit systems.  Dozens of streetcar systems are being built or proposed throughout the nation.  Portland recently obtained the first federal funding for a streetcar line using the new Small Starts program.  Tucson has funded a shovel-ready streetcar project with federal stimulus dollars.  The Green Line is a small project that sooner or later will be funded if the Kenilworth LRT is selected and stakeholders commit to the line.

The Kenilworth LRT, and with the Green Line, together referred to as the Network Alignment, will serve Minneapolis far better at substantially lower cost.  The Network Alignment offers better funding prospects than the Greenway/Nicollet LRT.

Mitigation – Both alignments pass through developed and environmentally sensitive areas. Adequate mitigation and betterments will be crucial components of either alternative

Bob Corrick                                  John DeWitt                                Tim Springer

SW LRT PAC Member               SW LRT PAC Alternate           Executive Director

Midtown Comm. Works           Midtown Comm. Works        Midtown Greenway Coalition

Key Facts to Consider for the Minneapolis SW LRT Alignment[iv]

(Most favorable data is highlighted in Bold Italics)

Metric

Kenilworth Route

3A

Greenway/Nicollet Route 3C-2

Network Alignment:

Kenilworth 3A +

Green Line

Preliminary Capital Cost

$1.1 to 1.25 Billion

1.6 to 1.8 Billion

1.2 to 1.35 Billion[v]

Preliminary Capital Cost to be paid by 5 Counties and the State from property, sales and income tax

$505 to $513 Million

$800 to $900 Million

$600 to $675 Million

Preliminary Daily Ridership

28,000 to 30,000

28,000 to 30,000

31,300 to 33,300[vi]

Preliminary Cost Effectiveness Index (CEI) <=$29 is good

$28 to $31

$44 to $48

Not Applicable[vii]

Population Served[viii] (Excl. downtown)

Projected 2030

16,665

55,254

83,260

Employment Served[ix]

(Excl. downtown)

-2000 Census

-Projected 2030

11,899

12,940

13,624

15,201

36,298

41,469

Population Served[x]

by per capital income

(Excl. Downtown):

-$18M or less

-Greater than $18M

4,491

5,436

25,756

16,745

41,747

22,181

Minneapolis Growth Centers Directly Served

2

1

3

Directly  Served:     -Allina/Midtown

-Uptown

-All Greenway/Lake St.Neighborhoods/Nodes

No

No

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

# Greenway Stops

(For Transit-Oriented Development)

0

4

8


[i] Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan, Appendix B: Land Use Planning, Development Density Concept Map 9/5/09 Draft.

[ii] Representatives from the Metropolitan Council have indicated that the data from the new Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan are not likely to change the ridership estimates or CEI significantly.

[iii] The Cost Efficiency Index (“CEI’) for the Greenway/Nicollet LRT is about $45, which is more than $15 over the FTA requirement.  Even if the CEI requirement were eliminated, the FTA would still use the index (or a similar measure) to rank the attractiveness of LRT projects.  Regardless, we should always care about investing all of our transit dollars wisely

[iv] Preliminary capital cost, ridership and CEI are based on Southwest Transitway Evaluation Results, Policy Advisory Committee (PAC), August 10, 2009.

[v] This estimate excludes any federal funds that might be obtained from transit programs such as Small Starts.  The $100 million cost of the Green Line is based on estimates in the Minneapolis Streetcar Feasibility Study, Final Report, December, 2007, p. 3-17.

[vi] Daily ridership of the Green Line has been estimated to be 3,300 Minneapolis Streetcar Feasibility Study, Final Report, December, 2007, p. 3-8.

[vii] The CEI probably would not apply to the Green Line because it is funded separately from the SW LRT.  However, the low cost of the project would make it a very efficient feeder line to the LRT system.

[viii] Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan, Appendix B: Land Use Planning, Local Planning Handbook Section 4. Transportation, 7/18/08 City Council Approved Draft.  Data excludes central downtown employment for all routes.  These employment estimates are based on TAZ’s contiguous with the rail lines (within up to about ½ mile from transit lines).

[ix] Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan, Appendix B: Land Use Planning, Local Planning Handbook Section 4. Transportation, 7/18/08 City Council Approved Draft.  Data excludes central downtown employment for all routes.  These employment estimates are based on TAZ’s contiguous with the transit lines (within up to about ½ mile from transit lines)

[x] Metropolitan Council staff based on 2000 Census.

Network Alignment

Kenilworth 3A                   Greenway/Nicollet 3C-2      Network Alignment

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Bob Corrick’s and John DeWitt’s  response to Art Higinbotham’s  letter to the editor

In his advocacy for a Greenway/Nicollet alignment for the SW LRT corridor, Arthur Higinbotham (Star-Tribune 8/3) fails to mention that that alignment will likely add nearly $300 million to the project cost. Unfortunately, that added expense would give us a light rail line that is most notable for what it just misses.

Access to jobs drives transit ridership.  Some 70% of transit trips in the Twin Cities are job related. That grows to 80% with the addition of University students. A map of Twin Cities’ employment clusters (below) shows just one significant employment cluster in south Minneapolis, the Abbott-Northwestern, Allina, Wells Fargo complex. But the Greenway/Nicollet alignment misses that important cluster by nearly a mile. In 2010, the long awaited Bus Rapid Transit service on 35W will begin. And again, the Greenway/Nicollet alignment will miss an important transfer point at Lake Street by four blocks.

Minneapolis Employment Clusters: Large Red Dots=10,000+ employees

Minneapolis Employment Clusters: Large Red Dots=10,000+ employees

The city of Minneapolis has designated four growth centers: downtown, the U of M, Basset Creek Valley, and the Abbott Northwestern, Allina and Wells Fargo complex. The Greenway/Nicollet alignment misses all of those growth centers, except for downtown.

To build the kind of transit the Twin Cities region needs in the 21st century, it’s important to focus on the system, not just one individual line. A network combining a streetcar line through the Midtown Greenway with a light rail line through the Kenilworth corridor will perform much better than a single light rail line using the Greenway/Nicollet alignment. In addition, this Network Alignment would save taxpayers some $200 million.

A Greenway streetcar line would connect the Hiawatha and SW LRT lines. It would serve all the neighborhoods and businesses along Lake Street from Hiawatha Avenue to West Lake Street, including Uptown. It would directly serve some of the most transit dependent neighborhoods in Minneapolis as well as employees at Abbott-Northwestern, Allina, and Wells Fargo along with the 35W BRT transfer station. Together, the light rail and the streetcar line would serve three of the four designated growth centers in Minneapolis. Finally, the Kenilworth leg of the Network Alignment  would better serve transit riders from north Minneapolis.

There is strong community support for the Network Alignment. The Midtown Greenway Coalition, Lake Street Council, and Midtown Community Works Partnership are behind it.

A Network Alignment would serve Minneapolis far better at much less cost.

Note:  This letter was submitted by Bob Corrick to the StarTribune on August 5, 2009.

SW Light Rail Transit: What is the best alignment for Minneapolis?

Introduction: Two alignments are being considered in Minneapolis for the Southwest Light Rail Transit from Eden Prairie: (1) Route A: Kenilworth Corridor to the intermodal transit station next to the new baseball stadium; and (2) Route C: the Midtown Greenway and north to downtown on Nicollet Avenue. Variants of Route C also have been considered including routes down Lyndale and Portland Avenues. Both routes are controversial in part because they proceed through or near residential and park areas.

Overview: The Greenway Route would serve higher population neighborhoods in central south Minneapolis. As a result, this route offers intuitive appeal to many stakeholders. In 2008 we are still in the process of evaluating research and feedback about the project. To date, careful analysis of financial, technical, and operational factors, suggest that the Kenilworth Route offers clear advantages. These advantages relate to cost, downtown street transit congestion, and transit network connections. Furthermore, the Kenilworth Route in fact serves many interests of Minneapolis.

One of the key pieces of research that we must consider is the ridership estimate based on the model of the Federal Transportation Administration, which predicts similar total ridership levels for both alignments (28,100 per day for the Greenway vs. 27,000 for Kenilworth). The model predicts more new riders, however, for Kenilworth: 7,800 vs. 6,800. (These estimates may change somewhat in 2008-9 after we input new data from Minneapolis’ revised Comprehensive Plan.) This estimate is counterintuitive to many stakeholders because the Greenway Route precedes through Minneapolis neighborhoods with higher population densities. The Greenway Route “cannibalizes” the city’s existing north-south bus system, so fewer new riders would be added to the Greenway Route than we had hoped for. In addition, the model shows that routes down Nicollet, and particularly Portland, increase ride times, which reduce the number of riders from the suburbs. Opponents of the Kenilworth Route have questioned the validity of the FTA’s model. Actually, although no model is perfect, it offers reasonable scientific validity based on thirty years of experience with many LRT systems throughout the country. Moreover, we must work with the FTA and its rules whether we like it or not. The model represents a cornerstone of the FTA’s evaluation.

There are five major advantages of the Kenilworth Route compared with the Greenway Route:

  • Project Cost: The Greenway Route costs about $200 million more than the Kenilworth Route ($1.4 vs. $1.2 billion total cost in 2015 dollars). For the Greenway Route, we spend a lot to dig up streets, build a tunnel, and bring the system downtown. Cost by itself, of course, does not determine the best route. If we were to advocate the more costly, less efficient Greenway Route, however, we would seriously jeopardize our chances of financing the project. There are three major reasons for this conclusion:

1) Half of the project cost will be paid by local sources (the State, County, etc.), so funds come out of scarce and politically sensitive local transit dollars. An extra $100 million to be paid out of local taxes is very significant in this context.

2) The Federal Transit Administration opposes more costly projects without higher ridership benefits. Projects with a Cost Effectiveness Index (CEI) higher than about $23 currently are discouraged or opposed by the FTA. At the present time, the Kenilworth CEI is $26, closer to the FTA target, while the Greenway Route has a CEI of $30. We have learned about the importance of CEI in the case of the Central LRT project. The University of Minnesota wants a $200 million tunnel, but this expenditure is simply too costly and inefficient for the FTA.

3) We are competing with many other LRT projects throughout the country for scarce Federal transit dollars, so cost is important regardless of efficiency.

  • Downtown Street Transit Congestion: Even if cost of the Greenway Route were not a problem, downtown street transit congestion perhaps would pose the biggest challenge for the Greenway Route. The Kenilworth Route avoids downtown streets by using an existing rail corridor to connect with the intermodal transit station next to the baseball stadium. The Greenway Route would not connect with the intermodal station, but rather would proceed north on perhaps the Nicollet Mall, which would conflict with the city’s downtown plans. Other central north-south streets are planned for bus and automobile traffic. A Portland Avenue Route would require transfer to the Hiawatha LRT by the Metrodome for passengers to proceed downtown. There would be no capacity on the Hiawatha LRT for these transferred passengers. A new Portland Route, which would proceed, west down 10th Street to the intermodal station, has been proposed by CIDNA (Route E), but this option would increase project cost and suburban ride times, and further reduce efficiency of the project. This conflict of LRT with downtown street congestion is a common problem in large cities. If the Greenway Route were implemented through downtown, Minneapolis would represent the only US city with two LRT corridors in the central business district.
  • Serving the Interests of Minneapolis: The Greenway Route offers the apparent advantage of serving south Minneapolis with higher population density. The Kenilworth Route is criticized by some stakeholders for serving only the suburbs. Actually, the Kenilworth Route offers seven major benefits to Minneapolis:

1) The Kenilworth Route would represent a financeable project whereas the Greenway Route may not be financeable.

2) West Minneapolis would be served with stops at West Lake Street, 21 St., Penn, and Van White. A large transit-oriented development community is planned for the Van White neighborhood. West Lake would represent an active transit stop for feeder lines and commuters.

3) More commuters would get out of their cars, thereby addressing congestion issues in Minneapolis.

4) The Minneapolis central business district would continue to be supported as a transit focal point in the regional transit grid; commuters would be encouraged to use LRT to come downtown for business and pleasure.

5) Downtown street transit congestion would be minimized by using existing rail corridors for LRT.

6) For when the time is right, whether sooner or later, the Midtown Greenway would be preserved as an efficient cross-town rail connection (LRT or streetcar) between the Kenilworth Route and the Hiawatha LRT. This feeder line would connect Uptown, Lynlake, Midtown Exchange, and the transit dependent areas east of Nicollet, and could be implemented more efficiently (at less marginal cost) than the Greenway Route down Nicollet Avenue, without digging up streets and interfering with downtown traffic. If rail transit were not immediately implemented in the Greenway, bus feeder lines on Lake Street would connect Uptown with the Kenilworth Route at West Lake Street. Feeder bus lines are a common strategy for LRT systems. Currently, for example, about half of Hiawatha LRT riders transfer from other forms of public transportation.

7) Minneapolis would receive all of the advantages above with no direct funding burden.

  • Compatibility of LRT with City Streets: The Kenilworth Route maximizes the advantages of light rail trains, which are best utilized at higher speeds, without stops, off of city streets, in dedicated rail corridors. Street cars should be planned for city streets, and as feeder lines to the LRT system.
  • Operational Efficiency: The Kenilworth Route would interline LRT vehicles with the Hiawatha and Central Corridors, whereas the Greenway Route would not. Interlining permits cars on one line to be used on other lines, resulting in significant long-term operating cost and performance efficiencies.

Environmental Factors: Both routes proceed through residential areas and green space. Kenilworth is often cited as more park-like and residential, while the Greenway as more city-like and multi-family. Kenilworth offers a pristine, expansive, and natural setting, surrounding by beautiful homes, while the Greenway has been converted from a drug-infested abandoned rail corridor into a beloved urban green amenity proceeding through an area of the inner city that lacks the abundant park space of the city’s west side. Communities have worked hard to beautify both corridors with funds from the County, City, Federal government, and in the case of the Greenway, from the Midtown Community Works Partnership. Cedar Lake Park Association is to be commended for the park created west of Kenilworth, but Cedar Lake Park is not part of the Kenilworth Route. We all value these greening efforts. It does not seem fair or responsible, however, to now oppose transit in these corridors in the name of parks after the County has so cooperatively encouraged greening of their transit property. There is no credible reason why both corridors should not be used entirely in the long term for the intended purpose of rail transit, and share green space with recreational users.

The environmental impact on residences in both corridors would be noticeable. The Greenway is generally a narrower corridor, but some stakeholders assert that more single-family residences would be affected in Kenilworth. Actually, more single- and multi-family residences may be affected by the Greenway Route. In any case, mitigation for both corridors should address reasonable noise reduction and aesthetic efforts such as berms, landscaping, and sound walls. We should study a grade-separated crossing to address traffic congestion caused at Cedar Lake Parkway by the Kenilworth Route.

Conclusion: We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to design a Southwest LRT that is financeable, while providing the most new riders and optimal benefits for both the city and the region. The SW LRT Route should not be “gerrymandered” to serve all possible neighborhoods and communities, but rather the line should serve the function of a central transit “spine” to which a networked web of feeder lines (bus, streetcar, and other LRT) would bring riders. Although there is no perfect solution, the Kenilworth Route offers clear advantages for the city and the region compared with the Greenway Route when all factors are carefully considered.

Bob Corrick, SW LRT PAC Member; and CIDNA resident

John DeWitt, SW LRT Alternate PAC Member; Founder, Transit for Livable Communities; Minneapolis Resident

Note: Although factual matters presented herein are based on research such as the SW LRT Study, the alignment conclusion represents the opinion of the authors, and not the SW LRT PAC. Additional data, input and feedback may change final conclusions.