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Minneapolis, Minnesota/Hiawatha Avenue LRT

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Hiawatha Avenue LRT

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

(November 1999)

(Hiawatha Avenue Map)


Metro Transit and the Metropolitan Council (local metropolitan planning organization), in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), are proposing to design and construct an 11.5-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 (MOA) in Bloomington. The LRT is the transit component of a Locally Preferred Alternative 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 with the construction of one station. 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. The estimated capital cost for the 11.5-mile Hiawatha Avenue LRT, including 15 proposed stations, totals $548.6 million (escalated dollars). The project is expected to serve 24,600 average weekday boardings by the year 2020; 18,300 average weekday boardings are projected in the opening year.

Hiawatha Avenue Summary Description

Proposed Project Light Rail Transit Line
11.5 miles, 15 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $548.60 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $247.30 million
Annual Operating Cost ($YOE) $15.00 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 24,600 average daily boardings
9,300 daily new riders
FY 2001 Financial Rating: Medium-High
FY 2001 Project Justification Rating: Medium
FY 2001 Overall Project Rating: Recommended

The Recommended rating is based on the strong transit-supportive land use policies in place along the corridor and throughout the metropolitan area, and the strength of the projectís capital and operating financing plans. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. 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.

FTA approved Metro Transit to initiate preliminary engineering in January 1999 on the LRT component. In August 1999, Metro Transit completed a re-evaluation of the 1985 FEIS on a segment of the alignment extending from the Minneapolis CBD to Interstate 494. An Environmental Assessment on the segment extending from I-494 to the MOA was also completed that same month. Revised information includes 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 to the MOA. The proposed Hiawatha Avenue LRT is included in the regionís financially constrained Transportation Improvement Program and the Long-Range Transportation Plan. The project is expected to be ready to advance into final design in early 2000.

Section 3030(a)(91) of TEA-21 authorizes the "Twin Cities Ė Transitway Corridors" for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $69.32 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for the "Twin Cities Transitways" project, which includes the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor light rail project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTAís Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. The project will be re-evaluated when it is ready to advance to final design and for next yearís Annual Report on New Starts.


The Medium project justification rating reflects the strong transit-supportive characteristics of the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor and the positive environmental benefits anticipated to result from the implementation of the project.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Low-Medium

Metro Transit estimates that, in the year 2020, average weekday boardings will reach 24,600, including 9,300 daily new riders. Metro Transit 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 1.00 million hours increase of 0.40 million hours

Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 3,358 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the 15 proposed stations. This represents 20 percent of the total number of households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: High

The Minneapolis-St Paul metropolitan area is an attainment area for ozone and carbon monoxide (CO) and a moderate non-attainment area for particulate matter (PM10). Metro Transit 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 395 annual tons decrease of 253 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) decrease of 68 annual tons decrease of 45 annual tons
Hydrocarbons (HC) decrease of 41 annual tons decrease of 27 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) decrease of 2 annual tons decrease of 2 annual tons
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) decrease of 9,378 annual tons decrease of 10,404 annual tons

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

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (millions) decrease of 106,273 million annual BTU decrease of 117,578 million annual BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

Metro Transit 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) $0.35 $0.35 $0.36

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Low-Medium

Metro Transit estimates the following cost effectiveness indices:

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $19.00 $19.20

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High land use rating reflects the regionís recent progress in adopting plans, policies and incentives to promote transit supportive development in the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor and throughout the Twin Cities region. The rating also acknowledges the regionís current growth management policies as well as the participation and endorsement of local government and civic organizations in the development and planning processes associated with the proposed light rail project.

Existing Conditions: Downtown Minneapolis serves as the dominant job center for the metropolitan region and the upper Midwest with approximately 140,000 employees and 20,000 residents. Approximately 106,000 employees work within three blocks of the proposed Hiawatha Avenue LRT route. In addition, several major trip generators are also included along the proposed route, including the Mall of America (largest retail complex in the nation), the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, numerous educational and medical facilities and the Metrodome (sports arena). The City is currently reviewing 16 major development projects for the downtown area that total 8.3 million square feet.

The Twin Cities region has been experiencing steady population and economic growth (ranking ninth in the nation in population growth from 1990 to 1996), and the Minneapolis CBD is growing at a rate significantly higher than the region as a whole. Total population and employment in 1995 was estimated at 70,000 and 198,000, respectively, within a ½ mile radius of proposed light rail stations. Based on 2020 forecasts, both total population and employment within a ½ mile radius of proposed LRT stations is projected to grow approximately 25% (87,800) and 37% (271,891), respectively.

Future Plans and Policies: The Metropolitan Council, which has responsibility for regional planning and the operation of several major public services, has established a strong policy foundation for growth management. The Met Councilís Metro 2040 Strategy in the Regional Blueprint establishes a growth boundary promoting higher density development overall and emphasizing reinvestment in the urban core. As part of the implementation of the regional growth strategy, the Met Council will tie investments in transportation and sewer facilities to local efforts to implement the regional plan and will determine consistency of local governmentsí required comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances, and capital improvement programs with the Regional Blueprint. The Councilís new Smart Growth initiative has produced a Transit Oriented Development Guidebook to assist communities in implementing TOD around tarnsit facilities.

Development of additional surface parking lots is banned downtown. Minneapolis interim zoning ordinances offer "bonuses" or reductions in required parking to businesses located within 200 feet of a transit stop. Large developers in downtown Minneapolis are allowed reductions in parking supply requirements. Other provisions currently under consideration include additional bonuses for locating near an LRT station, and maximum parking limits appropriate to size and use.

The Metropolitan Council has taken recent action to target regional development resources to the proposed corridor. These actions include the dedication of $5 million to land assembly in the corridor for the creation of transit-friendly development around stations, and the award of state-funded "Livable Communities Demonstration Account" funding to three separate Hiawatha LRT neighborhood-based development initiatives. Another mixed-use development project located near the Downtown East (Metrodome) station was awarded Livable Communities funding in a previous funding cycle. In addition, the City of Minneapolis has targeted $4 million in redevelopment funding for transit-oriented redevelopment initiatives around the cityís proposed LRT stations.

Local Financial Commitment

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

The financial strategy for the proposed Hiawatha Avenue light rail project assumes $274.3 million (50 percent) of Section 5309 New Start funds, $117.3 million (21 percent) in State funds, $87.0 million (16 percent) in local funds, and $70 million (13 percent) from the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the strong financial condition of Metro Transit and the high percentage (75 percent or $204.3 million) of funding committed at the State and local level to the proposed project.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: The Metropolitan Council is in strong financial condition with an existing fund balance (1998) of $145 million. Metro Transit operates as a division of the Metropolitan Council of Governments, itself a component unit of the State of Minnesota. The Metropolitan Council has taxing capacity and acts as an administrator of both Federal and State funds.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Total capital cost estimates increased approximately 22 percent over the last year to reflect 1) costs in escalated dollars, 2) the redesign of several project elements, and 3) more detailed engineering studies. These costs are considered reasonable given the projectís size and scope.

Existing and Committed Funding: Approximately 75 percent ($204.3 million) of non-New Starts funding is existing and committed to the Hiawatha Avenue LRT. These sources represent contributions from the State of Minnesota ($117.3 million) and the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority ($87 million). Over the last two years, the Minnesota Legislature has set aside $117.3 million for the proposed LRT. The remaining 25 percent ($70 million) of local funding has been proposed by the Metropolitan Airports Commission (which is also a division of the Metropolitan Council) in the form of general airport revenues. However, the use of these funds must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

New and Proposed Sources: Only existing sources are proposed for the construction of the Hiawatha Avenue light rail project.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium rating reflects the Metropolitan Councilís healthy operating condition. Revenues to operate the proposed Hiawatha Avenue LRT appear strong.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Operating cost estimates appear reasonable. Project sponsors estimate annual operating and maintenance cost at $15 million for the Hiawatha Avenue light rail project. This will require an additional annual operating subsidy of $11.43 million (escalated dollars) representing an increase of 10 percent in operating assistance requirements.

Existing and Committed Funding: All of the Hiawatha Avenue light rail projectís operating funds currently exist and are considered committed. Funds to support operating costs will be derived from the following: real growth in existing property tax levies, real growth in state general appropriations/miscellaneous sources; periodic fare increases; and a three year temporary application of regional CMAQ funding.

New and Proposed Sources: All proposed operating revenues currently exist. No new sources are needed.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Section 5309 New Starts $274.30 $69.32 million appropriated to the Hiawatha Avenue LRT through FY 2000
Minnesota Legislature $117.30


Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority $87.00


Metropolitan Airports Commission $70.00


Total: $548.60

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

Map of an 11.5-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 (MOA) in Bloomington.

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact