Minneapolis officials taking heat for $200 million Central-Nicollet streetcar plan

MplsStreetcar.jpg
The city is considering bringing trains of this sort back to the Central-Nicollet corridor.
Last month, the legislature gave Minneapolis officials the authority to create a "value capture district" that would divert property taxes from under-development parcels to help pay for a $200 million streetcar line down Central and Nicollet Avenues.

SEE ALSO: Central Corridor undergoing redevelopment, but at what cost?

City officials could vote to create the district as soon as tomorrow, the Star Tribune reports. But in recent days, both the City Council's former budget chair, Paul Ostrow, and an independent mayoral candidate, Cam Winton, have come out in opposition to using public funds for a new streetcar line.

In a letter addressed to Mayor R.T. Rybak and council members, Ostrow, who retired from the council in 2009 and now works as an Anoka County attorney, writes that he has "grave reservations regarding the priority of a streetcar lines [sic] in our City when we have much more pressing needs."

"I am unconvinced that the streetcar lines will ever reach the areas of our City most in need of investment. I am also unconvinced that the streetcar lines will be of any value to our citizens who are most in need," Ostrow continues. "A streetcar will not put our people to work and certainly will not get our people to the living wage jobs they need. I hear a lot of talk about Minneapolis being a progressive City. Using scarce property tax dollars to fund an amenity when basic needs are not being met is not progressive."
nicolletCentral.jpg
Graphic via MinnPost
A map of the proposed Central-Nicollet streetcar line.

Likewise, during a press conference held on a bus late last month, Winton said, "To build a streetcar line would be an epic mistake."

"Minneapolis can achieve its transit goals and meet its transit needs with an enhanced bus system," he continued, according to a Star Tribune report. "And the facts show that an enhanced bus system is the only way to meet the transit needs of Minneapolis in a responsible way."

Earlier this year, MinnPost reported that the 9.2 mile streetcar line would run from Central Avenue at 41st Street on the north end to Nicollet Avenue and 46th Street on the south. Light rail is unfeasible along that stretch because the Central-Nicollet corridor is narrower than University Avenue, which encompasses the almost-completed Central Corridor LRT line.

"The streetcar stops would be every quarter- to half-mile, compared with light rail, which usually stops every half-mile or mile," MinnPost writes. "Construction costs for modern streetcars is about half the cost of building light-rail lines."

While that's still too rich for Ostrow and Winton (the Strib reports that the city would likely be on the hook for about $60 million of the roughly $200 million project cost, with federal funds covering the rest), others argue that rail lines attract private investment in a way buses can't.

Along those lines (pardon the pun), Rybak's policy aide, Peter Wagenius, told the Strib, "What we hope to prove by the end of [the streetcar] project is that we will get an increase in value along the corridor beyond that which is projected on these six blocks."

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at arupar@citypages.com.



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29 comments
Please
Please

The Twin Cities Mire...of interest...

The truly spectacular story was yet to come. General Motors was not involved in the Minneapolis - St. Paul bus conversion, but local lawyer Fred Ossanna, and Benson (Barney) Larrick, former 20-year veteran and regional manager for NCL, most certainly were. (Another former NCL manager, Jim Gibb, also worked in the Twin Cities in the early 1950s, but was not convicted of anything and in fact testified for the prosecution).

The Twin City Rapid Transit Company (TCRT, commonly called Twin City Lines) marched to a different drummer than much of the North American transit industry. They did not embrace bus conversion (though a few lightly used lines had been converted), and ran an extensive and well-maintained trolley system with many modern PCC streetcars.

In 1951, Collier's writer Gordon Schendel wrote an article exposing organized crime connections to Twin City Lines, which was followed-up by Mass Transportation columnist Orson A. Round. Ossanna was displeased with both publications’ "cheap claptrap", and threatened libel action.

People of the Twin Cities footed the bill, one way or another, for the $27.5 million dollar cost of the bus conversion. The biggest beneficiary of the whole sordid affair was General Motors. The last streetcar made by an American firm had rolled out of the factory in 1951.

Please
Please

In Minneapolis, the guys that liquidated Twin City Rapid Transit were convicted of fraud.  The real problem wasn't that streetcar ridership peaked, but that this massive disinvestment removed a huge amount of infrastructure and crippled the transit ridership base. You only need to compare some of the cities that managed to keep streetcars in place (San Francisco, Toronto) or those that had other transit infrastructure to fall back on (New York, Chicago) and compare them to places like Los Angeles.

Please
Please

These street cars, ala right rail looking, will be great for older people and young families, not to mention the whole city. Do you realize the oil lobby/car companies ripped up all of the street car lines in most cities and spread suburban type development for auto dependency?Street signs, street lights, traffic signals, paving and repaving, plowing, etc. Also each person owning a car is not efficient – Minneapolis is behind the national curve and will lose out on the millennials if the attitudes don’t change. This is a good news from a well-informed City Council.

exgeronimo
exgeronimo

Minneapolis is way behind every similar city on streetcars: Seattle, Denver, Salt Lake City even, not to even mention Portland. Let's get with it already. This should be started ASAP with more lines quickly behind it. Gas isn't getting any cheaper.

kennyX
kennyX

This is utter bullshit. Do you know what this street car line will do to already congested traffic on Nicollet and Central Ave? This will not create any new commerce as Nicollet Ave is already saturated with businesses, and Central Ave has basically turned into the Old (Ghetto) Lake St. Most businesses last about 1 year on Central and close up shop due to the shady characters who roam the streets driving potential customers away (Go the check out the lovely intersection of 26th and Central on any given day or night. Hint: They're not college students waiting for the bus). 

Derrick49
Derrick49

Just like the original light rail line that runs from the airport to downtown, this streetcar line is designed to benefit tourists. Tourists can take the light rail to downtown, and then the streetcar will let them go to the shops and restaurants along Nicollet and Central avenues. The actual benefit to Minneapolis citizens will be minimal, and it will impede traffic on two very important streets. The is just another one of Rybak and Johnson's follies.  It's a total waste of taxpayer dollars. 

Beth Quast
Beth Quast

More importantly... will it finally rid us of the Kmart? :)

Chris Holm
Chris Holm

Come on people. Let's think farther ahead than tomorrow. Don't forget that road maintenance, purchasing and maintaining buses, fuel, etc also have costs. I'd be surprised if a $200 million dollar rail line didn't actually save money in the long run if managed properly.

David Gustafson
David Gustafson

They could build this for probably a fifth of what the Vikings' new stadium will likely actually cost, and it would give benefit to thousands of people, and the city as a whole. But I agree with some of the others here: Hennepin might be a better route.

Tommy Toraason
Tommy Toraason

I want the rail (whether that be street cars or light rail) but I also agree it would do a lot more good coming down Hennepin/Lynadle than Nicollet. But, I'll take what we get.

Jenna Waldrop
Jenna Waldrop

Should be doing something else with the 200 million dollars.. BS

Andrew Sonnek
Andrew Sonnek

Central Ave N makes sense, but wouldn't far more people be better served with a mass transit option running down Hennepin or Lyndale instead of Nicollet?

exgeronimo
exgeronimo

@kennyX hopefully it will cause them to be less congested. I for one drive up and down nicollet all the time and I would take a streetcar instead. The big difference: boarding times. The bus is too slow with all the people struggling to get their change and get up and down the stairs. Nicollet and Central Ave. are not exactly tourist destinations! But now, they might be, that's good for the city and the lower-income businesses and residents in the corridor. Be glad they didn't choose Hennepin.

Onan
Onan

@kennyX - Uh, 26th and Central is just fine if you aren't afraid of your own shadow.

exgeronimo
exgeronimo

@Derrick49 A heck of a lot of Minneapolis citizens live on or near Nicollet/Central and can get a lot of use out of this line, not sure what you are talking about really. It will make those corridors more attractive for development which will bring more tax dollars into the city. Tourists will never get on a bus and go to Central or Nicollet as it is today. If this causes them to do so, that will be a huge boon for those business owners, how is that not good for citizens?

Onan
Onan

@Derrick49  - Do you know how we can tell you don't ride the LRT?

southmpls86
southmpls86

@Derrick49 I would take this to commute to downtown from my house. It would benefit me.

Onan
Onan

@Beth Quast  - No kidding.

fuckno
fuckno

@Chris Holm You think streetcars run on sunshine and lollipops? 

Onan
Onan

@Elisabeth Morley  - One can tell where the old streetcar stops were located by observing where smaller "mom and pop" stores are located on the corner.

Also, streetcar tracks are visible in many places around town lurking just a couple inches below the roads. You can sometimes see them when a pothole opens up. There are quite a few of these areas around the Minnehaha Park area as well as over by the Stone Arch Bridge.

fuckno
fuckno

@Elisabeth Morley Trains and streetcars are a boondoggle. Busses are cheaper and better at meeting actual transportation needs. That's why the streetcars went away. 

MNjoe
MNjoe topcommenter

@Elisabeth Morley Lake Amelia - I love it!

exgeronimo
exgeronimo

@fuckno no, but they run on the electric grid which is much cheaper and cleaner than gasoline. Not subject to price spikes like we had lately. And natural gas does not solve this problem, it's price is headed up again as well.

Onan
Onan

@fuckno  - Uh, not really. Streetcar hourly operating costs are around 50% of the hourly operating costs of a bus and also don't generate nearly the amount of pollution as buses.

The streetcars went away because of greed and corruption. 

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