The 17 individual Transitional Station Area Action Plans (TSAAP) have been compiled into the Southwest Corridor investment framework. The Southwest Corridor investment framework will act as a living document that guides the public and private sector investments necessary to facilitate the evolution of the station areas into transit-oriented developments with a unique sense of place that relate positively and synergistically with the Southwest Corridor as a whole. This document was completed in 2013 and does not yet reflect the LRT project scope changes adopted in 2015.
Over its 15 mile length, the Southwest LRT Corridor passes through five different municipalities. Although generally characterized as a “jobs line,” a closer look at the line and its 17 stations reveals that it is much more. The Southwest LRT Corridor is an interwoven string of interesting and unique places. While each of the stations is distinct, there are a number of systems and in some cases, common elements, features and characteristics that help connect station areas along the corridor and relate them to adjacent neighborhoods. When it opens in 2018, the Southwest LRT will connect a range of diverse communities and place types along its route including places to work, mixed use centers, public institutions and important recreational and open space assets.
Sustainable Communities Planning Grant
In October 2010, the Twin Cities region was awarded a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Sustainable Communities Planning Grant intended to build on existing regional planning efforts to advance multi-modal transportation choice, promote affordable housing with access to jobs, foster transit- and pedestrian-friendly development, support environmental preservation, and increase energy efficiency. The grant funds were targeted to support comprehensive transit corridor plans that include strategies to provide access to living wage jobs, affordable and life-cycle housing choices, align workforce opportunities with corridor employment prospects, and improve connections to sources of fresh locally grown and ethnic foods. In addition, the effort was intended to build local implementation capacity within regional corridors to advance inter-jurisdictional planning, regulatory, and administrative efforts that will support the Sustainable Communities program. The grant is part of a federal partnership that includes HUD, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Through use of this grant and the Corridors of Opportunity (CoO) initiative, the Southwest LRT project was intended to be a new model for transitway development through systemic organizational change to institutionalize consideration of land use, economic development, affordable housing, workforce development, and access to jobs, services, educational facilities and quality food when designing the LRT line. The purpose was to work collaboratively across disciplines, agencies, and communities to realize the shared goals of delivering an on-time, on-budget LRT project that encourages transit- and pedestrian-friendly development, leverages private resources, and improves quality of life for nearby communities and the region.
Transitional Station Area Action Plan process
In this region and across the country, station area plans are conducted for the proposed stations along LRT lines. These plans are typically done station by station and focus on the long-term (2030 and beyond) vision for that individual station area in isolation. In the case of the Southwest LRT line, this type of individual station area planning to set a long-term vision for each station had been conducted between 2002 and 2010 with funding assistance from Hennepin County through the Community Works program, the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority, and the Federal Transit Administration. While the establishment of a long-term vision for each station is a crucial step in the process, it was recognized that a gap existed in these plans in terms of understanding how best to accomplish the transition of the station areas over time and in phases. There was also a strong recognition that to realize the corridor’s catalytic potential, a coordinated and collaborative process that involved all five municipalities working collectively on all 17 proposed stations at the same time was needed. Conducting station area planning as a collective and focusing on the transition between today and opening day of the LRT line was a new and untested concept.
The TSAAP process was intended to promote opening day readiness by bridging the gap between current conditions and future needs through identifying and prioritizing infrastructure improvements that enhance existing businesses, support mixed-income housing opportunities, and encourage transit-oriented development (TOD). Additionally, the TSAAPs will support short-term development and facilitate long-term, phased TODs.
The components of the individual station TSAAP include:
- Introduction. A brief overview of the station location and its surroundings
- Where are we today? A description of existing conditions in the station area, including land use, transit connections, access and circulation, and infrastructure needs
- Where are we going? This section presents a number of recommendations for the station area in anticipation of opening day needs and the long-term TOD environment. This includes access & circulation plan, station area site plan, infrastructure plan, development potential, and summary of key initiatives
TSAAP process results and impacts
The results of this process are action plans that will assist the cities, Hennepin County, other Community Works partners, the Southwest LRT project office, and the private sector in understanding infrastructure investments that are needed in the near term to improve business and housing conditions, and in the future to enable the station areas to achieve their long-term vision and the LRT project to increase its ridership base. The TSAAP process was also used as a tool to recommend changes to the LRT engineering to better serve existing land uses and facilitate long-term phased TOD.
The TSAAP was a 14-month process that included nine months of intensely focused efforts to have an open, transparent, inclusive and iterative discussion of how modifications to the placement of the LRT infrastructure (e.g., tracks, station platforms, park and ride facilities, etc.) could influence and affect the long-term development potential in the station areas. This was accomplished through close to daily meetings/conversations and idea exchanges between the Southwest LRT project office staff, the TSAAP consulting team, and Southwest LRT Community Works partner agency staff. The intentional inclusion of community development staff in meetings with the engineering staff greatly facilitated this open dialogue and lead to a successful process.
The results of this intense collaborative process included significant changes to the LRT engineering that will result in a lower cost, higher ridership LRT line with greater potential for enhanced TOD. Key examples include:
- The realignment of the LRT line in Eden Prairie (Mitchell, Southwest & Town Center Stations) to serve their planned town center area and the Eden Prairie Center mall
- The tunnel rather than bridge over Highway 62 between the City West and Opus Stations, which reduced LRT costs and better integrates with the UnitedHealth Group development
- The realignment at the Shady Oak Station which reduced LRT acquisitions, softened track curves, created greater station platform visibility, created larger, more cohesive parcels for redevelopment, and improved trail access.
- The movement of the Blake Road Station park and ride to the south side of the tracks in a structured facility which improved station access and created a stimulus for redevelopment of the south east quadrant
- The realignment of the Louisiana Station from elevated to at-grade which will better integrate with future redevelopment in the area and provide better access to Park Nicollet
- The inclusion of vertical circulation at the West Lake Station which will improve access to the station and better connect the station to redevelopment opportunities
- The removal of park and rides and conversion to structured facilities which will allow for more transit oriented development to occur at the station platform