City Council considers transit hub criteria

January 14, 2019

In November, R.T. Rybak issued a challenge.

The Destination Medical Center Corp. board chairman called for identifying locations of two proposed transit hubs by the board’s February meeting.

“That’s something I consider aggressive, but absolutely achievable,” he said.

On Monday, the Rochester City Council will determine whether a proposed set of criteria meets the needs for the facilities that would provide thousands of parking spaces with a downtown connection through a planned circulator bus.

Recent transit studies show a future need for an estimated 4,000 parking spaces northwest of downtown Rochester and 2,000 spaces south of the downtown core.

The criteria being considered Monday could narrow potential locations for each hub, which would be expected to include more than parking. Housing and retail space have been suggested as components of the planned facilities.

As far as locations, options for the northwest hub site range from being built over U.S. Highway 52 to somewhere west of U.S. Highway 52 along U.S. Highway 14. The goal is to reduce congested commuter traffic heading to Saint Marys Hospital and downtown by providing frequent bus connections with limited parking expenses.

The planned southern hub is expected to be built east of South Broadway. Potential locations in or near Graham Park have been part of repeated discussions.

“Somewhere in that neighborhood would work well,” Olmsted County Commissioner Heidi Welsch said, noting the option is reflected in the Graham Park Master Plan.

Speculation also has revolved around the nearby Seneca Foods canning plant, which closed last year.

On Tuesday, Olmsted County commissioners met behind closed doors to discuss the potential for purchasing property a 1217 Third Ave. SE, as well as near the operational frozen foods facility at 330 20th St. SE and other agricultural land in the county.

Following the closed meeting, County Board Chairman Jim Bier, who is also a member of the DMCC board, said there was no action to report.

Another potential site for development of a transit hub could be where the Kmart store sits at 201 Ninth St. SE. The retailer has announced plans to close in late March.

In November, Rochester Deputy Administrator Aaron Parrish said it’s too early to say where the potential hubs could be built, but he cited a specific challenge for city staff as plans develop, which is why priorities for locations must be identified.

“Identifying sites in a public process is not necessarily advantageous to securing the best real estate deal, but if we have good criteria that people are invested in, I think we can work within those criteria and bring you a strong recommendation,” Parrish told Rybak during the November meeting.

The location criteria approved by the DMCC board were:

• Accessibility with the ability to get to and from the site.

• Route efficiency for the planned circulator.

• Economic development opportunities at the site and along the circulator route.

• Cost and timing related to the purchase of any required property.

• Relationships with existing amenities.

In a memo to the city council, Parrish said the criteria will be used to evaluate various potential sites if council members agree with the DMCC board’s goals.

He said evaluation results could be provided to the council later this month or in early February.

Once transit hub sites are determined, he said a route for the planned circulator can be finalized and the process of seeking Federal Transportation Authority funding can start.

The transit hubs and circulator are part of a proposed 20-year effort identified through the recent Integrated Transportation Studies. With implementation expected in four phases, estimated construction costs are $1.2 billion for the entire project, with funding coming from a variety of sources.

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