Access Project: Consensus Grows for Comprehensive I-35W Vision

Consensus Grows for Comprehensive 35W Vision

Access Project’s future now tied to regional rapid bus issue

December 2004—After seven years of planning that culminated in city and county approvals nearly a year ago, the I-35W Access project to provide better freeway interchanges with south Minneapolis streets still has a few more issues to resolve before details of its construction will be cemented.

Crosstown traffic
Because the Access project’s design for I-35W leaves space for a future high-occupancy vehicle or bus rapid transit (BRT) lane in each direction, and because it builds a BRT station on I-35W at Lake Street, the project has become swept up in the larger regional transportation picture. Minneapolis has withheld its consent on another major I-35W project in south Minneapolis, the Highway 62 “Crosstown” interchange project, in a bid to extend BRT lanes into downtown.

In an effort to move the Crosstown project forward, a special appeals board is expected to convene in mid-January to hear this and other differences between Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The disposition of this issue will light the course for both final design and funding of the Access project.

Other variables
Meanwhile, an MnDOT study of BRT on I-35W is expected to reach the state legislature by the end of the year. And on December 15, the Metropolitan Council will take action on its 2030 Transportation and Transit Plan, which recognizes the I-35W corridor as a high priority for BRT service.

Many other transportation funding plans are in the works for local and state consideration, including proposals and evaluations from Governor Pawlenty, the Itasca Project of Minnesota CEO’s, the Minnesota Chambers of Commerce, the Minnesota Business Partnership, North Area Mayors Association, Association of Minnesota Counties, and the I-35W Solutions Alliance. 

Money talks
Each of these plans may affect the calculus of state bonding required to extend BRT. Though the Access project has accumulated $53 million in committed funds to date, a new funding plan will need to account for the possible addition of BRT lanes on I-35W north of 46th Street.

The centerpiece of the Phillips Partnership’s infrastructure initiative, the I-35W Access project was designed with exhaustive community input to improve freeway access and expand transit service in South Minneapolis, with a focus on the Lake Street corridor. Using an impacts mitigation plan of unprecedented scale, Access will introduce urban design around the freeway that is conducive to safer streets and the revitalization of neighborhoods. The project is expected to cost $150 million.