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Minneapolis, Minnesota/Hiawatha Avenue Corridor

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Hiawatha Avenue Corridor

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

(November 1998)


MetroTransit and the Metropolitan Council (local metropolitan planning organization), in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and Hennepin County, are proposing to design and construct a 12.2-mile Light Rail Transit (LRT) line along the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor. The proposed LRT will operate on the Hiawatha Avenue/Trunk Highway 55 Corridor linking downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) International Airport, and the Mall of America in Bloomington. The LRT is the transit component of a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) which includes reconstruction of TH-55 as a four lane at-grade arterial between Franklin Avenue and 59th Street and construction of an interchange between TH-55 and TH-62 (Crosstown Highway).

Current plans call for the north end of the LRT to begin in the Central Business District (CBD) and operate on the existing transit mall along 5th Street. The LRT is planned to exit the CBD near the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome, following the former Soo Line Railroad to Franklin Avenue, then parallel Hiawatha Avenue. The project will include a 0.8-mile tunnel to be constructed under the MSP airport runways and taxiways. The line is then planned to emerge from the tunnel on the West Side of the airport and continue south with four proposed stations in Bloomington, including a station in the vicinity of the Mall of America. MetroTransit is planning to restructure existing bus routes to provide feeder service to the LRT. The estimated capital cost for the 12.2-mile Hiawatha Avenue LRT, including 18 proposed stations, totals $446 million (1997 dollars). The project is expected to serve 24,800 average weekday riders by the year 2020. In addition, 19,300 daily riders are projected in the opening year.

Hiawatha Avenue Corridor Summary Description

Proposed Project Light Rail Transit Line
12.2 miles, 18 stations
Total Capital Cost ($1997) $446.00 million
Section 5309 Share ($1997) $223.00 million
Annual Operating Cost ($1997) $9.90 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 24,800 daily boardings
8,300 daily new riders
FY 2000 Financial Rating: Medium-High
FY 2000 Project Justification Rating: Medium
FY 2000 Overall Project Rating: Recommended

The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1998. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.


A Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), including a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor, was completed in February 1985. The preferred alternative documented in the 1985 FEIS included the reconstruction of the roadway to a four-lane, divided at-grade arterial, with an LRT line adjacent to the roadway and extending north to the Minneapolis CBD and south to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Since the completion of the 1985 FEIS, improvements have been implemented on the roadway elements of the preferred alternative. The LRT line did not proceed into project development due to a lack of funding. MetroTransit is currently completing a re-evaluation of the 1985 FEIS, scheduled for completion in early 1999. The FEIS re-evaluation will include updated cost and ridership estimates, a final route alignment in the downtown Minneapolis portion of the project, and alignment options at the airport as well as options for service south to Bloomington. The Hiawatha Avenue LRT is included in the region’s 1997-2000 Transportation Improvement Program.

Section 3030(a)(91) of TEA-21 authorizes the "Twin Cities – Transitway Corridors" for final design and construction. Through FY 1999, Congress has appropriated $27.33 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for the "Twin Cities Transitways" project, which includes the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA’s Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. Since the completion of the 1985 FEIS, technical information has been periodically updated and a systematic re-evaluation of the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor has been underway since 1997. The re-evaluation is scheduled for completion in early 1999.


Mobility Improvements

Rating: Low

MetroTransit estimates the following annual travel time savings for the Hiawatha Avenue LRT line:

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) decrease of 0.80 million hours increase of 0.40 million hours

Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 3,351 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the 18 proposed stations. This represents 20 percent of the total number of households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

The Minneapolis-St Paul metropolitan area is an attainment area for ozone and a moderate non-attainment area for carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PM10). MetroTransit estimates that in the year 2020, implementation of the Hiawatha Avenue LRT would result in the following emissions reductions:

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) decrease of 361 annual tons decrease of 159 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) decrease of 62 annual tons decrease of 29 annual tons
Hydrocarbons (HC) decrease of 37 annual tons decrease of 17 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) decrease of 1 annual ton decrease of 1 annual ton
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) decrease of 8,312 annual tons decrease of 6,284 annual tons

MetroTransit estimates that the proposed project will result in the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units – BTU).

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (millions) decrease of 93,297 million annual BTU decrease of 64,690 million annual BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

MetroTransit estimates the following systemwide operating costs per passenger mile, reporting an increase in the new start compared to the no-build alternative.

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2020) $0.34 $0.35 $0.35

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Low-Medium

MetroTransit estimates the following cost effectiveness indices:

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $17.23 $18.57

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medium rating reflects the diversity of the existing land use and densities along the corridor (which range from transit-supportive to non-supportive), as well as the establishment of progressive parking and other transit-supportive policies in downtown Minneapolis. The proposed Hiawatha Avenue light rail project links some of the largest activity centers in the region. These include Downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, related employment centers (e.g., Veterans Administration, General Services Administration, and an existing medical facility) as well as the Mall of America, the largest retail complex in the nation. Proposed station areas reflect a mix of land use densities and pedestrian environments. The Minneapolis Central Business District (CBD) is generally a pedestrian friendly, mixed use, and high-density environment. However, industrial and low-density commercial and residential areas are predominate elsewhere in the corridor. Existing parking policies in the proposed corridor are mixed related to transit-supportiveness. For example, developers located in the CBD are allowed to build less parking than required in exchange for transit-supportive commitments. Minneapolis is having some success with this policy, as developers are taking advantage of the opportunity to build less parking: currently sixteen anticipated projects would add 30,000 new jobs, but include just 5,000 new parking facilities. Outside of the CBD, however, it is unclear what types of transit-supportive policies are in place.

Other Factors

Regional Initiatives: The Twin Cities region is known nationally for its regional governance structure. Adopted policies reflect a desire to focus new development in the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor, and to pursue growth management policies in general. In addition, the region has several incentives for transit-supportive development, including Livable Communities Demonstration Funding, a property tax reduction for businesses within a ¼ mile of high-frequency transit, and a Livable Communities Tax Base Revitalization Account. The region has also adopted a Metro 2040 Growth Strategy with a goal of accommodating and guiding the location of 330,000 new households and 650,000 additional people the Metropolitan Council has forecasted over the next 25 years.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 50%

The proposed financial plan for the proposed Hiawatha Avenue light rail project assumes $223 million (50 percent) of Section 5309 New Start funds and $223 million (50 percent) in state, local, and Federal flexible funds.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The capital plan is rated Medium-High based primarily on local stakeholders’ financial commitment to the project. The current financial capacity of the Metropolitan Council, which acts as a component unit of the State of Minnesota, has been demonstrated. Funding for MetroTransit is provided through the Metropolitan Council. In 1998, a $100 million request in state bonding authority was made to the Minnesota Legislature for the Hiawatha Avenue light rail project. The Legislature subsequently appropriated $40 million for the proposed project in the 1998 session, with the understanding that the remaining $60 million will be appropriated in the next state bonding cycle in the year 2000. Hennepin County has acquired right-of-way valued at $30 million for the project. In addition, Hennepin County, the Metropolitan Airports Commission, and the cities of Minneapolis and Bloomington will make local contributions of approximately $70 million. All partners to the funding plan have bonding authority. The shares among local partners, however, will need to be decided, and the public entities will then have to appropriate the funds. A combination of TEA-21 flexible funds (i.e., CMAQ, STP) and other local funds will finance the remainder of project costs (approximately $23 million).

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium operating plan rating reflects a solid state and local commitment to provide operating support to the project, but acknowledges that MetroTransit needs to complete work on the operating plan and financial requirements. The State of Minnesota has a history of financially assisting MetroTransit. The State of Minnesota makes a direct appropriation which accounts for approximately 19 percent of Metro Transit’s operating revenues and which also has been growing at about 12.5 percent over the last three years. Over 40 percent of Metro Transit’s operating revenues come from a regional dedicated property tax levy, which is growing at approximately 5-6 percent per year. Based on past financial performance, increases in property tax revenues have generated approximately $3 million in added funds per year. The remainder of operating revenues comes from contract revenues and miscellaneous sources. The current Metro Transit system-wide farebox recovery ratio is 32.5 percent. About 40 percent of the anticipated $9.9 million (1997 dollars) in operating and maintenance costs of the proposed project are estimated to be recovered from farebox revenues.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $1997)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Federal: Section 5309 New Starts $223.00 $27.33 million appropriated through FY 1999
Federal: Flexible Funds (CMAQ, STP) $15.00
State and Local: $208.00
Total: $446.00

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

[Hiawatha Avenue Corridor Map (PDF)]

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