Minneapolis – Rice, Minnesota/Northstar Corridor Commuter Rail
Northstar Corridor Commuter Rail
The Northstar Corridor Development Authority (NCDA) and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MN DOT) are proposing to design and construct an 80-mile commuter rail line within the Northstar Corridor connecting the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area and Rice, Minnesota. The proposed project also includes a 0.3-mile extension of the proposed Hiawatha Corridor light rail transit (LRT) project from its currently planned terminus in downtown Minneapolis to provide a direct link to the proposed commuter rail service. The proposed commuter rail line would operate along existing Burlington-Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad tracks. The commuter rail project also includes the purchase of five locomotives, 17 passenger rail cars, and the construction of layover and vehicle storage facilities. Total capital costs for the commuter rail project are estimated at $223 million (escalated dollars). The proposed Hiawatha Corridor LRT extension runs approximately one-third of a mile between Third Avenue North and a proposed downtown Minneapolis commuter rail station at Fifth Avenue North. Total capital costs for the Hiawatha Corridor LRT extension are estimated at $21.8 million (escalated dollars).
The Northstar Corridor is an area generally paralleling Trunk Highway 10 that extends from Downtown Minneapolis northwest for a distance of 80 miles to Rice, Minnesota. The corridor will connect the Twin Cities with several suburban areas, including Anoka, Sherburne, Benton and Morrison counties. Ten of the twelve proposed commuter rail stations will provide park-n-ride facilities and all stations will accommodate bus pick-up areas. A feeder bus program providing increased bus service to station sites will also be implemented. The commuter rail project is expected to serve 10,550 average weekday boardings by the year 2020, including 9,400 daily new riders.
The Recommended rating is based on the project’s adequate cost effectiveness and transit-supportive land use elements, and it acknowledges the developing capital and operating financing plans for the proposed project. The overall project rating applies to this Annual Report on New Starts and reflects conditions as of November 2000. 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.
In May 1998, NCDA undertook a Major Investment Study (MIS) and a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to examine transportation options in the Northstar Corridor between downtown Minneapolis and Rice, Minnesota. The MIS was completed in December 1999 with the selection of a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). The LPA includes new river crossings, Trunk Highway 10 improvements, commuter rail, feeder bus, pedestrian/bike improvements, and ITS initiatives. The LPA is included in both the Metropolitan Council’s and the St. Cloud Area Planning Organization’s (local metropolitan planning organizations) financially constrained long-range transportation plans. The Northstar Corridor commuter rail project is also included in the State Transportation Improvement Program. FTA approved NCDA and MN DOT’s request to initiate preliminary engineering in June 2000 on the commuter rail and light rail extension projects. NCDA completed the DEIS in November 2000. A Final EIS is scheduled for completion in Summer 2001.
Section 3030(a)(90) of TEA-21 authorizes the “Twin Cities -- Northstar Corridor (Downtown Minneapolis-Anoka County-St. Cloud)” for final design and construction. Through FY 2001, Congress has appropriated $3.81 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for the “Twin Cities – Transitways Projects” which includes the Northstar Corridor commuter rail project.
The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA’s 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 year’s Annual Report on New Starts.
The Medium project justification rating reflects the adequacy of the ratings for the New Starts criteria, including cost effectiveness and transit-supportive land use.
NCDA estimates that, in the year 2020, the Northstar Corridor commuter rail project will result in 10,550 average weekday boardings, including 9,400 daily new riders. NCDA estimates the following annual travel time savings for the proposed project:
Based on 1990 census data, there an estimated 1,219 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed 12 commuter rail stations. This represents two percent of the total number of households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed stations.
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). NCDA estimates that, in the year 2020, the implementation of the Northstar Corridor project will result in the following emissions reductions:
NCDA estimates that by 2020, the Northstar Corridor project will result in the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units – BTU).
NCDA estimates the following systemwide operating costs per passenger mile, reporting a decrease for the new start compared to the no-build alternative.
NCDA estimates the following cost-effectiveness indices:
Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns
The Medium rating reflects the presence of urban-scale development at many of the stations and the initiation of station area planning efforts to stimulate transit-oriented development. The rating also acknowledges the high projected rates of corridor growth and the region’s current growth management policies, which include strategies to encourage transit-supportive land use patterns.
Existing Conditions: Downtown Minneapolis serves as the dominant job center for the metropolitan area and the upper Midwest with approximately 140,000 employees and 20,000 residents. The total population within the proposed corridor is estimated at 299,000. While high-density, pedestrian-friendly development is located within walking distance of the proposed Downtown Minneapolis station, the immediate station surroundings are industrial or undeveloped and are not strongly pedestrian-oriented. However, the proposed Minneapolis Northeast station is in a dense urban neighborhood. Mid-corridor development at several other proposed stations is lower-density and single-use. The stations near the terminus of the line, which serve the City of St. Cloud and the University of St. Cloud, are in or near areas with moderately high densities.
The middle portion of the alignment is characterized by low-to-medium density development, with a municipal services’ complex immediately located to the southwest side of the proposed St. Cloud East station. However, Highway 10 presents a barrier to pedestrian movement between the station and the undeveloped area to the north. The St. Cloud Downtown station, located near the northern terminus, is close to the central business district and is surrounded by high-density residential and mixed-used development in a pattern that appears to be highly pedestrian-friendly. A potential terminus of the commuter rail alignment (Rice Station) is located near the center of a small rural town with mixed land use and a development pattern supportive of pedestrian activity.
Future Plans and Policies: The Northstar Corridor has been identified as the growth center of Minneapolis. Population is forecast to increase approximately 20 percent in the Northstar Corridor by the year 2020, while employment is projected to increase approximately 50 percent. The Twin Cities-St. Cloud metropolitan area is considered a high-growth area. The Twin Cities metropolitan area has experienced one of the highest rates of population growth in all of the major metropolitan areas in the Midwest throughout the last two decades. Land use plans and policies of the Metropolitan Council and the St. Cloud Area Joint Planning Council, and the counties and cities through the which the proposed commuter rail alignment passes, support capturing growth in urbanized areas, the reduction of sprawl, the constraint of residential growth in rural areas and the preservation of productive agricultural land. In addition, the St. Cloud Area Joint Planning Council has a plan that will concentrate development in urban centers and limit development in rural and natural areas. Sherburne and Benton counties also have land use plans that direct new housing into their respective cities, thus supporting growth near proposed commuter rail stations. Several of the suburban communities in the Northstar Corridor have initiated station area plans. NCDA has prepared preliminary station area land use plans that are subject to community approval. The Metropolitan Council will provide technical assistance for continued neighborhood station area planning efforts.
Downtown Minneapolis currently has 62,000 parking spaces, which is equivalent to 0.43 spaces per employee. Three major parking facilities with a total capacity of 7,000 spaces are located near the proposed downtown station. Parking spaces in downtown Minneapolis are near capacity. The City of Minneapolis’ municipal policy prohibits the creation of parking spaces at transit stations. Currently, there are no public parking lots at stations along the corridor outside of Minneapolis, except at the proposed Foley Boulevard Station, where a 1,200-car parking structure was recently built at the Metro Transit bus hub near the proposed station, and the St. Cloud Downtown station, where there are no public parking structures, private lots, or on-street metered spaces. The parking supply ratio is this station area is low, due to relatively high rates of transit, bicycle and pedestrian travel.
Local Financial Commitment
Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 50%
The financial strategy for the proposed Northstar Corridor commuter rail project proposes $112 million (50 percent) of Section 5309 New Starts funds, $89 million (40 percent) of State funds and $22 million (10 percent) of local funds to finance the $223 million (escalated dollars) estimated capital cost of the commuter rail project.
Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan
The Medium rating reflects the commitment of several suburban county funds to the project and the State’s efforts to secure the remaining funding. However, the rating also acknowledges the absence of a 20-year agency-wide finance plan for the Northstar Corridor commuter rail project, including revenue forecasts for capital revenue sources, debt proceeds and a service plan.
Agency Capital Financing Condition: The Northstar Corridor Development Authority and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MN DOT) are joint project sponsors. NCDA was created for the sole purpose of developing the Northstar Corridor commuter rail project and thus has no historical track record for funding major transportation investments. FTA did not receive any information on the financial condition of MN DOT.
Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Capital cost estimates are considered reasonable given the project’s size and scope. However, additional engineering may lead to increased capital cost estimates.
Existing and Committed Funding: At this time, $19.14 million (17 percent) of the non-Section 5309 New Starts share has been committed to the Northstar Corridor commuter rail project through county board resolutions. The revenue source for these funds is an existing local property tax that is considered stable and reliable. State and local legislative action is required to commit the remaining portion ($91.86 million) of the proposed non-Section 5309 New Starts share.
New and Proposed Sources: Only existing sources are proposed to fund the capital cost proposed Northstar Corridor commuter rail project.
Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan
The Medium rating reflects the State’s support for operations of the proposed system. However, the rating also acknowledges the lack of a 20-year agency-wide operating plan, including documentation of the commitment of operating revenue sources.
Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Operating cost estimates appear reasonable at this early stage of project development. Project sponsors estimate annual operating and maintenance costs at $13.97 million (escalated dollars) for the Northstar Corridor commuter rail project. However, project sponsors did not submit a detailed agency-wide 20-year operating plan or any information on escalation factors to FTA for review.
Existing and Committed Funding: At this time, the State has committed to fund operations of the proposed project. However, specific funding amounts, sources and uses have not yet been identified.
New and Proposed Sources: A combination of new and proposed revenue sources are being examined by the State for ongoing operations and maintenance of the proposed system.