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Tweaked plan for 35W-Lake Street overhaul unveiled

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: June 20, 2014 - 3:58 PM

A massive and at times controversial plan to build a transit station in the middle of Interstate 35W at Lake Street and add two nearby freeway exits has been tweaked to alleviate concerns of neighbors.

At an open house on 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 historic homes on 2nd Avenue.

Those homeowners fiercely opposed the encroachment, installing signs reading "Save Our Homes / Stop Freeway Expansion." The freeway would still 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, the widening of 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 on 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 now hope to solicit bids starting in July 2017. The costs will be split between the Metro Transit, the city, the county and MnDOT.

At its 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 pass through the station in dedicated lanes, according to Hennepin County engineer Jim Grube. 

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 between 35 to 40 minutes.

Two new exits will be added to 35W, one traveling southbound onto Lake Street and another traveling northbound onto 28th Street. The 28th Street exit has proven more controversial. Council Member Robert Lilligren said it was a waste of money when he cast the lone council 'no' vote in 2012 on elements of the plan.

Other elements of the plan include replacing two aging freeway bridges at the intersection of 35W and Interstate 94, replacing four bridges over 35W -- including one dedicated to bikes and pedestrians -- constructing a "Green Crescent" connecting the nearby Midtown Greenway into 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 attempting to secure the Kmart site, less than a block away, to reconnect Nicollet 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," Grube said. In some cases, that means the freeway will actually move farther away from nearby homes. Some properties farther north, such as between 31st and Lake Street, will still move closer, however.

Grube said that the bridge over Lake Street will be 77 feet wider than it is today, solely due to the placement of the transit center and its dedicated bus lanes.

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