What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

Proposal would expand city's transportation planning

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: October 30, 2014 - 4:19 PM

Above: Rendering of one segment of a proposed greenway in north Minneapolis.

A major change to the way the city’s public works department plans transportation projects could give residents more say in what ultimately gets built in their neighborhoods.

City engineer Steve Kotke told the city’s budget committee Thursday that he is reorganizing department to create a new division focused largely on planning transportation projects – a task that is now covered under two divisions. The new division will get a $300,000 boost in the mayor’s budget, on top of $3 million in redirected funds.

Under the current system, the scope and budget of a road resurfacing or new bikeway is largely determined by the time city staff begin the public engagement process.

“We put together a concept, submit it for approval and once it gets approved then we have funding and then we do the community engagement,” Kotke said. “So what this really is is trying to get some additional funding, some up-front money to get the concepts developed before we actually even receive the capital dollars.”

Another benefit of the change is that projects will be “shovel-ready” if new funding does become available, Kotke said.

He highlighted the major bus improvements on Marquette and 2nd Avenue downtown in 2009, which benefited from two years of advanced planning before the city successfully sought $35 million in federal funds. That early work is becoming even more important for projects using federal dollars, since the federal government is eliminating extensions it had previously granted for using grant money.

Council Member Kevin Reich, chair of the council’s transportation and public works committee, said the new process will allow more consideration of issues like economic development when planning transportation projects.

“It can’t be underscored, the significance of this restructuring and what it can mean for not only this department but the city itself,” Reich said.

Organics recycling will be another major initiative of the public works department in 2015. It will cost $5.3 million to buy 50,000 carts and 11 packer trucks, and $4.4 million into the future for 22 new employees and maintenance work.

The program will only apply to the approximately 100,000 homes served by the city’s trash haulers, each of whom will pay upwards of $40 a year in their trash bills whether they opt-in or not. Kotke said they will roll it out to 25 percent of homes in September 2015, with the other 75 percent of homes receiving them in spring 2016.

The city will begin charging the new rates in January 2015, however, since it will need money to get the program up and running, Kotke said.

City vows to clear busy corners, bus stops of snow

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: October 30, 2014 - 3:00 PM

Above: Pedestrians climb through a corner packed with snow in 2010 (Marlin Levison)

Walking around Minneapolis promises to be a little easier this winter with the elimination of mini-mountains of snow at many street corners and bus stops.

Those mounds can grow more than a foot high as more snow is tossed aside by street plows, creating cumbersome barriers for pedestrians – particularly those with disabilities.

City engineer Steve Kotke said $200,000 in the mayor’s proposed 2015 budget will help implement a policy of clearing snow at corners and bus stops along busy streets within three working days of a snow emergency or the accumulation of 4 inches.

Clearing corners now happens somewhat randomly, largely when there is a lull between major snowstorms.

“I’d like to be able to set a standard,” Kotke said. “And just say look, people can expect that we’re going to have these corners cleared off within a certain time frame. So I think that’s the essence of it.”

Kotke said that it may take until March to get services up to par with the new policy, though residents will start noticing a difference in January and February.

The policy would apply to so-called “pedestrian priority corridors,” which run along most major arterial streets (map below). They have both the most foot traffic and the majority of bus boardings.

At a budget presentation Thursday, council member Blong Yang asked how much it would cost to expand the service to all streets in the city. Kotke estimated it would be about $1 million.

“That’s not too bad,” Yang said.

Council vice president Elizabeth Glidden said the change was significant.

“I think this is one of the biggest challenges, frankly, in the city,” Glidden said. “We get to wintertime and the majority of our population is kind of trapped.”

Bicyclists will also see some wintertime improvements. Kotke said an extra $150,000 in the mayor’s budget will purchase equipment to aid plowing on narrow protected bikeways and $41,000 in new ongoing funding will fund bike path plowing. The city has 96 miles of protected bikeways.

Above right: Photo by Joe Bernard.

Pedestrian Priorities Map

Fire Department debuts new program for teens

Posted by: Erin Golden under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Public safety Updated: October 28, 2014 - 5:38 PM

A new class at a south Minneapolis high school is part of an expanded push to increase the diversity of the city's Fire Department.

Eleven students at Roosevelt High School were recognized Tuesday by Mayor Betsy Hodges, Fire Chief John Fruetel and Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson as they completed the first step in a course that will end with a chance to receive EMT certification. Alaready, the students have completed enough coursework to earn EMR --emergency medical responder -- status.

It's the first year for the student EMT program, which joins the department's "Explorer" program, another effort to give young people a close-up look at firefighting. 

Fruetel said the new class provides a way for students to test out the possibility of working as a firefighter, or in another job at the city.

"I challenge some of the inner-city youth in the city of Minneapolis: if they would like to think about, are considering a career in the fire service, hopefully we're going to make that happen for them in the future," he said. 

A department report from earlier this year noted that just over 32 percent of the Fire Department's workforce is made up of people of color. Women make up 14 percent of the department. 

Students at Tuesday's recognition ceremony said the class has helped them imagine careers as firefighters, nurses and physical therapists. 

Mark Alexander Mena-Rodriguez, 17, said he'd thought about being a first responder in the past, but now knows it's what he wants to do after school. 

"It convinced me," he said. "Plus, I really like helping people, so it's a good way."

Construction costs put squeeze on Target Center project

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: October 28, 2014 - 3:04 PM

A long-planned renovation of the city-owned Target Center may have to be scaled back in some areas to cope with rising construction costs across the Twin Cities.

The news comes exactly a year after city, Timberwolves and AEG officials announced a $97 million deal to overhaul the 24-year old building. The project is still on schedule for fall 2016 completion, but Timberwolves Senior Vice President Ted Johnson said they know the original budget won’t buy as much as they initially expected -- given the current construction market.

The budget has also grown slightly, to $99 million, because the city and team each kicked in another $1 million after the Timberwolves vacated their Target Center offices – triggering a clause in the term sheet. The team is moving to the building formerly known as Block E.

“We’re not going to be able to afford the exact same specific project that we had envisioned at $99 million two years ago,” Johnson said. “But I don’t think that anyone has yet determined that we aren’t going to be able to still deliver the intent of that design.”

Some of the spending decisions could be more subtle, like picking ceramic tile versus quartz on a wall in the arena, for example. But Johnson said the question is, “Are there enough of those types of choices that make up the difference?”

Golden Valley-based Mortenson Construction, which leading the renovation, released a report in August detailing the rise in material, equipment and labor costs in the Twin Cities. The report said costs have increased 5.1 percent in the last year, compared to 3.9 percent nationally.

The city is paying for half of the renovation, with the Timberwolves funding another $44 million. The venue’s operator AEG would pay $5.5 million.

Some of the changes include creating additional gathering spaces, improving pedestrian traffic flow, increasing the seating capacity and fixing loading dock problems. The new exterior would features lots of glass, along with a new metal skin.

A report in the Business Journal Monday quoted Timberwolves President Chris Wright telling a luncheon that inflation means the $100 million project budget is now valued closer to $86 million.

Johnson said that number was intended to illustrate a point, rather than reflect any actual analysis. “It’s way too premature to even have any numbers,” Johnson said. “Because we haven’t broken it down.”

Those calculations are somewhat complicated, since the project does not require much concrete but does include many technological upgrades – a sector not experiencing similar inflation.

It doesn’t appear the cost increases will have an impact on public coffers, however. “I think that everyone is interested in trying to deliver the project with the same budget,” Johnson said.

Hat Tip: Nick Halter / Business Journal

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