Final financing approvals for a $10.3 million parking ramp and skyway at the Northstar Anoka Station have boosted prospects for city housing development in a transit village around the 4th Avenue station.

Construction is expected to start in May and be done by year's end, said City Manager Tim Cruikshank. He said grant approvals from several agencies were obtained before Christmas for the pedestrian bridge over the tracks and a three-floor parking ramp on the south side of the station platform. The city is negotiating final agreements with the Metropolitan Council, which operates the three-year-old commuter line.

The 333-stall ramp will open up several large parcels of city-owned land for market-rate apartments and other transit-related development, said Mayor Phil Rice. He noted that a senior assisted-living building already opened in December two blocks north of the station, at 4th Avenue and Grant Street.

The city owns land between the Rum River and the station as well as the parking lot just north of the tracks, which can be developed once the ramp is ready. The area adjacent to the station is zoned for apartments, townhouses or other housing. The ramp "frees up a key piece of property for the city to develop and add tax base," Cruikshank said.

Another factor that may attract residential development is the implementation last week of a partial rail crossing quiet zone, with no train horns blaring at night from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. for six months.

The city has spent about two years and roughly $100,000 trying to gain whistle-free crossings at 4th Street and Ferry Street, a few blocks west across the Rum River, officials said. The city had to extend concrete medians on either side of the crossings and negotiate with railroad owner Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which opposed the silent crossings, Mayor Rice said.

BNSF said the horns are a safety measure to notify people of approaching trains and said it might have concerns if they're no longer sounded routinely and other measures don't compensate for their absence.

The railroad said it sought a delay in implementation to allow for consideration of additional proposed improvements by MnDOT, as well as further review by the Federal Railway Authority (FRA).

24-hour quiet zones studied

The FRA has approved the partial silent crossing, while stronger safety options are explored, said Jim Weatherhead, a rail project manager for the state Department of Transportation. He said it is likely that 24-hour quiet zones would be approved by year's end.

Following the FRA directive, BNSF said it has been complying with the partial quiet zone.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the $10.3 million ramp and skyway cost will be covered by a $5.8 million federal congestion mitigation grant. Cruikshank said County Commissioner Matt Look helped obtain another $575,000 grant from the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority. The Counties Transportation Improvement Board chipped in $2 million, and Anoka paid the remaining $1.9 million.

Look said the county's funds will go primarily for the pedestrian overpass connecting north and south station platforms. The skyway is a safe alternative to keep people from walking around rail crossing arms at 4th Avenue, he said.

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658