Blaine council supports park and ride lot location

The Blaine City Council gave Anoka County its blessing to pursue a site for a park and ride lot to service Highway 65 bus transit project.

Anoka County is pursuing a 6.68-acre property east of the Blaine Baseball Complex for a 400-space park and ride lot. The county received a federal grant to provide bus transit service along Highway 65 to downtown Minneapolis for a three-year trial period.
Anoka County is pursuing a 6.68-acre property east of the Blaine Baseball Complex for a 400-space park and ride lot. The county received a federal grant to provide bus transit service along Highway 65 to downtown Minneapolis for a three-year trial period.

The 6.68-acre property is located on the southwest corner of Paul Parkway and Ulysses Street, just west of Highway 65.

The seven buses would take nine trips to and from downtown Minneapolis during the morning and evening rush hours, according to Kate Garwood, Anoka County multi-modal transportation manager.
Garwood said between 400 and 650 trips a day are expected to come from this 400-space parking lot. One person accounts for two trips a day because they would be taking a round trip to and from Minneapolis.

“This is a great spot in Blaine,” Garwood said.

The county received an $8.5 million federal CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation Air Quality) grant to provide express bus service for Highway 65 to downtown Minneapolis or a three-year period.

Service could be ready as soon as the fall of 2013 or as late as January 2014, Garwood said. Anoka County still needs to purchase this Blaine site and finalize leasing agreements for two other park and ride locations in East Bethel and Ham Lake.

Garwood said the county is negotiating agreements with a business in East Bethel and a church in Ham Lake for use of its parking lots. East Bethel’s lot is expected to generate between 50 and 100 trips a day, while Ham Lake’s park and ride could result in 100 to 200 trips per day, she said.

The route would start at northern East Bethel and proceed south on Highway 65, west of Highway 10, west on Highway 610, south on Highway 252 and east on I-94 into Minneapolis. As everyone else sits in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the buses will be able to drive by on wider shoulders constructed for the bus traffic.

Blaine park and ride

To make it possible to service more than 400 vehicles in case the use is greater than the projections, the city and county are looking at building a driveway between this new park and ride lot and the Blaine Baseball Complex just to the west for overflow parking when games are not being played.

If even more parking spaces are needed, Garwood said that a parking ramp could be added, although that would require another funding source.

A number of multi-family housing units are nearby so these residents could walk or bike to the station, according to Garwood. The county will look at whether there is space for bike lockers or bike racks at the Blaine station.

Councilmember Russ Herbst, one of the representatives for this area of Blaine within Ward 3, said he will support the project because he thinks it will add to the value of the area by being able to reduce traffic, but he will keep on eye on how the buses get onto Highway 65.

Herbst does not want buses heading south on Ulysses Street and east on 117th Avenue because he feels residents who use 117th Avenue to get to Highway 65 are impacted enough by development. Lowe’s is already at the corner and Walmart is on its way.

Herbst would rather see the buses take a detour north on Ulysses Street and access Highway 65 from the Main Street interchange, which he said has more capacity to handle the bus traffic than 117th Avenue.

Community Development Bryan Schafer said the city will analyze 117th Avenue along with the Ulysses Street intersection at Paul Parkway to see what improvements may be needed. The Paul Parkway left- and right-turn lanes at Ulysses Street may need to be extended to handle the greater number of vehicles. The city is asking the county to construct a right-turn lane into the parking lot from Ulysses Street.

The timing for these improvements is good because Paul Parkway was already scheduled for reconstruction in 2014, Schafer said.

Although this park and ride lot would create a concentrated amount of traffic for over an hour during the morning and afternoon rush hours, Schafer said there would have been many more vehicles throughout the day had this site developed into the commercial or office park it was originally anticipated to be.

The catch of having a park and ride lot in a commercial district is a piece of property comes off the tax rolls because it is government owned.

“I do have some heartburn about that piece coming off the tax rolls,” Herbst said.

It is tough to evaluate, but the Paul Parkway/121st Avenue overpass at Highway 65 makes this a “less than ideal site” because access is more difficult, he said. It could have been used for housing or perhaps a clinic, Herbst said.

Schafer said once this plan gets more refined, it would come to a council meeting and the people near the park and ride lot proposed site would receive notification about what the plan is. This meeting could come in late January or early February of next year.

Councilmember Dave Clark asked to what extent this bus service would be subsidized, once the fare revenue is factored in.

Garwood told Clark she did not have a number on this, but she said the county believes ridership will be equal or better than it was for the former Northstar commuter bus line.

Jon Olson, division manager of public services for Anoka County, said he believes the fare subsidy per rider ranged from 88 cents to a little over $2 depending on the month of the year.

Garwood said the county hears complaints about Highway 65 each day and she does not blame residents for not being happy about the slow flow of traffic on this highway.

“This will help mitigate that congestion,” she said. The county anticipates each bus will take about a half-a-mile of traffic off the road and approximately 150 kilograms less pollution each day will be put into the air, according to Garwood.

Blaine now has a 1,482-space park and ride lot at I-35W and 95th Avenue, which is the largest in the Twin Cities metro area, and a 366-space park and ride at Northtown Mall, according to John Siqveland, public relations manager for Metro Transit.

The second largest park and ride is the 28th Avenue light rail station near the Mall of America with 1,443 spaces, Siqveland said.

Siqveland said the Northtown Mall park and ride lot was constructed the same year as the I-35W and 95th Avenue lot added 500 spaces, which was in 1997.

The most recent counts Metro Transit has shows that about 60 percent of the I-35W and 95th Avenue lot is consistently used, which is up 2 percent from the prior year, according to Siqveland.

On the other hand, approximately 74 percent of the Northtown Mall spaces are being used, which is up 7 percent from last year, Siqveland said.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]