As a new year rings in, west metro cities and counties’ resolutions for 2014 mean going back to the Legislature to lobby for everything from local road work to light rail. Here’s what city and county leaders have on their wish lists to lawmakers when the session reconvenes Feb. 25:
Transportation is an important issue for Carver County, which in 2014 will move forward with the Southwest Reconnection Project. The $58.8 million effort will build a new, 4,200 foot, four-lane bridge over the Minnesota River flood plain, linking Carver and Scott counties. The current road in that location, Hwy. 101, has two lanes and floods frequently each spring.
The project will also involve rebuilding about 3,600 feet of Hwy. 61 that intersects with the bridge.
Carver County Administrator Dave Hemze said the county is seeking $17.1 million from the state for the Hwy. 61 upgrade, either in capital bonding or in additional funds from a special highway account.
“We feel the state should live up to their obligation and fund their share right away, so it doesn’t put as much pressure on our local budget,” Hemze said.
The county is also seeking a clarification in state law to allow its cities and townships to be treated as equals in terms of revenue from fines that are charged for certain crimes. Now, receive a portion of the fines, but townships don’t. Hemze said the townships need the revenue to help pay for law enforcement services they contract from the Carver County Sheriff.
State funding to upgrade two portions of Hwy. 101 is at the top of Chanhassen’s priority list. City manager Todd Gerhardt said corridor improvements are needed to improve safety, expand economic growth, create new jobs and expand the tax base. The areas are each along Hwy. 101: between Hwy. 61 and Pioneer Trail, and from Hwy. 5 to Crosstown Boulevard.
Chanhassen also wants the state to avoid the temptation to extend the metro transit bus system if communities don’t want it. Suburban cities now may “opt out” of the metro transit service area and set up their own systems. Chanhassen, Eden Prairie and Chaska have joined forces to do that and work with SouthWest Transit for bus service, which Gerhardt said serves the communities effectively and efficiently.
The city also wants the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to adopt more aggressive policies and strategies to prevent the spread of invasive species such as zebra mussels, and to become the main funding source for those efforts.
The city wants state funding for a new highway interchange at County Road 140 and Hwy. 212 in Chaska’s southwest development area. City administrator Matt Podhradsky said the addition would be “an investment in regional economic development” and would open up a large area for corporate and industrial newcomers.
Chaska also supports more transportation funding to expand Hwy. 212 to four lanes from just west of the city of Carver to Cologne.
In Eden Prairie, the city will be advocating for transportation funding, especially for the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail line, an estimated $1.5 billion project that would go from downtown Minneapolis through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and end in Eden Prairie. Of the 17 stations along the proposed 15-mile line, Eden Prairie and Minneapolis would have the most number of stations — five in each city.
Eden Prairie City Manager Rick Getschow said the suburb, like the other west metro cities on the line, see it as an economic development opportunity to spur new jobs and help reduce congestion from commuters going to and from Eden Prairie, especially on Hwy. 62 where UnitedHealth Group is building a massive $250 million building complex.
Over the next four years, UnitedHealth plans to build four buildings and parking ramps on the 71 acres near Hwys. 62 and 212; of those, one of them, a 15-story tower, will be the tallest building in Eden Prairie. It will bring an estimated 6,700 UnitedHealth employees to the area, concerning nearby residents and city officials that the influx will jam an already clogged Crosstown.
Getschow said expansions to Hwy. 62 will eventually be needed, but the site is also one of the city’s five planned light rail stations — Mitchell Road, SouthWest Transit station, Eden Prairie Town Center, Golden Triangle and City West.
Golden Valley’s top priority is getting financial help to pay for the reworking of Douglas Drive, a busy road with an industrial feel that the city wants to modernize by burying power lines, adding a bike lane and installing sidewalks on both sides.
The joint county-city project will cost $23 million, Mayor Shep Harris said. The city’s share is $13 million, and Harris said he hopes an appropriation in the bonding bill will help pay for that.
Golden Valley also is seeking an exception to state law so that it can sell alcohol at Brookview Community Center, which now can sell only 3.2 beer. That request is linked to a proposal to create lawn bowling courts at the center, which Harris said would capitalize on a fast-growing sport that is short of places to play.
“People like to come and play and have parties,” he said. “A full range of beverages will make it a better experience.”
Excited about the economic effect the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail line could have on Hopkins, the city’s top priority is to get the state to fund its part of the project, said Assistant City Manager Jim Genellie. At present, the state’s estimated share of the project cost is about $155 million. Previous bonding bills have committed to paying about one-third of that.
Hopkins would have three light rail stops, one on the border with Minnetonka, one at 8th Avenue and one on Blake Road. Genellie said anticipation of light rail helped attract one project, the 163-unit Gallery Flats apartments two blocks from the planned 8th Avenue station. The project is being built now, with the first apartments available in the spring.
Light rail is “a large development issue for us, and we really think it’s important to the future of our community,” Genellie said. “So we’re hoping St. Louis Park and Minneapolis can work out their issues and the state funds their portion.”
Hopkins also would like assistance in the bonding bill for upgrading and repairing its sewer infrastructure, and as a fully developed city that focuses on redevelopment, would like more state money to help with pollution on former industrial sites.
In Maple Grove, the biggest item on the city’s wish list is special approval from the Legislature related to the city’s 600 acres of gravel mining pits.
It’s the largest undeveloped area in the city and one of the largest graveling-mining areas in the Twin Cities. But redeveloping the vast area is costly, which is why the city is going back for the third time to ask the Legislature to approve turning 600 acres into a tax-increment financing, or TIF, district.
That means that the city would get extra tax money generated over 20 years by the new industrial warehouses and offices that go in, helping the city pay for $100 million in future streets, sewers and other infrastructure. It’s a controversial request.
City Manager Al Madsen said “misinformation” caused lawmakers to oppose the plan; their request was approved in 2012, but vetoed by Gov. Dayton in a larger bill and in 2013, it didn’t get in a House bill.
“We’ll push hard again,” he said. “Hopefully this third time will be the charm.”
Also on Maple Grove’s 2014 priorities: transportation funding for roads that connect to Hwy. 610. For more than 40 years, the Hwy. 610 expansion project has been completed piecemeal. Madsen said the last section connecting Hwy. 610 to Interstate 94 may be started by this summer, but the second and third stages of the project — to expand roads connecting to the highway — haven’t received any extra state help. The city doesn’t qualify to receive local government aid.
“We keep chipping away at transportation dollars,” Madsen said. “In somebody’s lifetime, it might be 100 percent complete.”
In Minnetonka, the city will also be advocating for legislative approval this year for the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail line. One station is planned to be in Minnetonka, but another station will be close to the city’s border in Hopkins.
Like Eden Prairie, Minnetonka sees the light rail line as a way to spur economic development and create jobs by bringing in more people to Minnetonka businesses, City Manager Geralyn Barone said. The project, which would be the biggest light-rail line in the Twin Cities, is controversial not in Minnetonka, but in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park because the communities are at odds over whether freight trains should be moved out of Minneapolis into St. Louis Park to make room for the light rail line. Right now, city and state leaders have stalled approvals for the project to allow for additional freight study and analysis of environmental impacts.
“We’ve convinced the details will be worked out,” Barone said.
Another priority for Minnetonka in 2014 will be for legislative approval to allow cities the authority to create street improvement districts. Cities would then get to collect fees from property owners within that district to fund city street maintenance, construction, reconstruction and facility upgrades. In Minnetonka, Barone said that, if the legislation was approved, the city would be interested in designating street improvement areas near Ridgedale and Shady Oak.
While other west metro cities advocate for Southwest LRT and north metro cities push for the Bottineau line, Plymouth is stuck in a the middle without either. “Plymouth is kind of a donut hole,” City Manager Dave Callister said.
That’s why the city has long pushed for roadway improvements that can help fix congested commuter ways like Interstate 494. Plymouth has the only portion of I-494 without a third lane, from Hwy. 55 to I- 694.
“The city has been trying to get this done for a long time,” Callister said.
This summer, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is installing wider shoulders, known as “dynamic shoulders,” going in both directions on I-494 that commuters can use during rush hours as a temporary third lane. But the city sees it as only a short-term fix.
Also on Plymouth’s wish list for 2014: road improvements to Hwys. 169 and 55, and a first-ever bonding request. Callister said the city’s 16-year-old ice center is in need of renovations, a new roof and replacements to the cooling system for the three sheets of ice. The city will commit $2.1 million and wants the state to match it with another $2.1 million. It’s the first time, Callister said, that the city has put in a state bonding request.
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