A massive and at times controversial plan to build a transit station in the middle of Interstate 35W at Lake Street in south Minneapolis and add two nearby freeway exits has been tweaked to alleviate neighbors' concerns.
At an open house Thursday night, project engineers showed how reducing some lane widths and moving the project slightly west prevents the widened freeway from edging closer to a block of homes on 2nd Avenue S.
Those homeowners fiercely opposed the encroachment, installing signs reading "Save Our Homes/Stop Freeway Expansion." The freeway still would move closer to some other homes, however.
The leader of their effort, David Piehl, could not be reached for comment Friday, but wrote online in May that the new plan was a "favorable development and essentially achieves the goal of keeping the freeway from coming any closer to the homes than it already is."
Some broad neighborhood concerns remain. The Phillips West Neighborhood passed a resolution in September opposing the widening of Lake Street and the freeway and building such a large transit station — a facility they otherwise support.
"We don't feel that this is a public-transit project," neighborhood executive director Crystal Windschitl said Friday. "We feel like this is a widening project masked by a public-transit project."
Components of the $150 million proposal to overhaul 35W at Lake Street have been in the works since 1997, but organizers hope to solicit bids starting in July 2017.
The costs will be split among the Metro Transit, the city, the county and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
At the plan's core is a new two-story transit station that will serve a proposed Orange Line rapid bus route running between Minneapolis and Lakeville. During peak hours, about 120 buses are expected to pass through the station in dedicated lanes, Hennepin County engineer Jim Grube said.
Expected to open in 2019, the Orange Line will run every 10 minutes during peak hours and 15 minutes during off-peak hours, serving 11 stops. A full trip through the route will take 35 to 40 minutes.
Two exits will be added to 35W, one traveling southbound onto Lake Street and another traveling northbound onto 28th Street.
The 28th Street exit has proved more controversial. Council Member Robert Lilligren said it was a waste of money when he cast the lone council "no" vote in 2012 on plan elements.
Other elements of the plan include replacing two aging freeway bridges at 35W and I-94. Four bridges over 35W would be replaced — including one dedicated to bikes and pedestrians — to construct a "Green Crescent" connecting the nearby Midtown Greenway to the transit station and repaving 35W from 42nd Street to 32nd Street.
Adding to the project's importance are several plans in the works for nearby sites. The city is trying to secure the Kmart site, less than a block away, to reconnect Nicollet Avenue and create a starting point for the city's first streetcar line. Separate plans for a streetcar and improved bus service are in the works for the Midtown Greenway and Lake Street, respectively.
So how did the engineers avoid the houses along 2nd Avenue? Grube said they changed where they placed the transition point between 11- and 12-foot lanes, while also moving the entire project slightly west.
"We took the savings and we kind of cocked the design so we put more of the savings on the east side," he said. In some cases, that means that the freeway will actually move farther from nearby homes. Some properties farther north, such as between 31st and Lake Street, still will move closer, however.
Grube said that the bridge over Lake Street will be 77 feet wider due solely to the placement of the transit center and its dedicated bus lanes.