Under pressure to spend a federal earmark, the city of Minneapolis will choose a plan Tuesday that would dramatically expand access between Lake Street and Interstate 35W.

Mayor R.T. Rybak has called a special City Council meeting to select the city's preference for new infrastructure at the intersection of South Minneapolis' busiest commercial corridor and one of the its most important arteries.

The idea has been discussed for years, but got urgency this August when the federal government threatened to pull an unused $8.9 million earmark left over from the days of U.S. Rep. Martin Olav Sabo.

The feds said states must have a plan for the funds by Oct. 1 and "obligate" them by Dec. 31. Minneapolis is merely one partner in the project, however. Hennepin County is the lead agency, partnered with MnDOT and Metro Transit.

View Lake Street access in a larger map

The goal of the project is to improve both transit and highway access in South Minneapolis.

Perhaps most notably for Minneapolis residents, the plan would eliminate awkward bus shelters in favor of a massive new transit facility in the middle of the highway (three times bigger than the existing station on 46th Street). This would be coupled with a new "green crescent" trail between the the Midtown Greenway and the new station. The total cost of those components is expected to reach $43 million.

Other improvements would include four new bridges between 28th Street and 31st Street, as well as a southbound exit from 35W to Lake Street.

The project was originally slated to cost about $500 million, but several elements were eliminated. One of them is a northbound entrance to 35W from Lake Street that was expected to cost $37 million.

The money isn't all in place, however.

Peter Wagenius, an aide to Rybak, said Friday that about $50 million in funding has been identified, leaving a hole of about $64 million. But Wagenius said the federal money can be spent on engineering and design absent the funds to complete the project.