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Minneapolis officials taking heat for $200 million Central-Nicollet streetcar plan

The city is considering bringing trains of this sort back to the Central-Nicollet corridor.
The city is considering bringing trains of this sort back to the Central-Nicollet corridor.

Last month, the legislature gave Minneapolis officials the authority to create a "value capture district" that would divert property taxes from under-development parcels to help pay for a $200 million streetcar line down Central and Nicollet Avenues.

SEE ALSO: Central Corridor undergoing redevelopment, but at what cost?

City officials could vote to create the district as soon as tomorrow, the Star Tribune reports. But in recent days, both the City Council's former budget chair, Paul Ostrow, and an independent mayoral candidate, Cam Winton, have come out in opposition to using public funds for a new streetcar line.

In a letter addressed to Mayor R.T. Rybak and council members, Ostrow, who retired from the council in 2009 and now works as an Anoka County attorney, writes that he has "grave reservations regarding the priority of a streetcar lines [sic] in our City when we have much more pressing needs."

"I am unconvinced that the streetcar lines will ever reach the areas of our City most in need of investment. I am also unconvinced that the streetcar lines will be of any value to our citizens who are most in need," Ostrow continues. "A streetcar will not put our people to work and certainly will not get our people to the living wage jobs they need. I hear a lot of talk about Minneapolis being a progressive City. Using scarce property tax dollars to fund an amenity when basic needs are not being met is not progressive."

Likewise, during a press conference held on a bus late last month, Winton said, "To build a streetcar line would be an epic mistake."

"Minneapolis can achieve its transit goals and meet its transit needs with an enhanced bus system," he continued, according to a Star Tribune report. "And the facts show that an enhanced bus system is the only way to meet the transit needs of Minneapolis in a responsible way."

Earlier this year, MinnPost reported that the 9.2 mile streetcar line would run from Central Avenue at 41st Street on the north end to Nicollet Avenue and 46th Street on the south. Light rail is unfeasible along that stretch because the Central-Nicollet corridor is narrower than University Avenue, which encompasses the almost-completed Central Corridor LRT line.

"The streetcar stops would be every quarter- to half-mile, compared with light rail, which usually stops every half-mile or mile," MinnPost writes. "Construction costs for modern streetcars is about half the cost of building light-rail lines."

While that's still too rich for Ostrow and Winton (the Strib reports that the city would likely be on the hook for about $60 million of the roughly $200 million project cost, with federal funds covering the rest), others argue that rail lines attract private investment in a way buses can't.

Along those lines (pardon the pun), Rybak's policy aide, Peter Wagenius, told the Strib, "What we hope to prove by the end of [the streetcar] project is that we will get an increase in value along the corridor beyond that which is projected on these six blocks."

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at arupar@citypages.com.



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