Plan highlights strategies to manage Twin Cities’ growth

Emily Johns

The roads are congested, the buses are full and the metropolitan area is expected to grow by 461,000 households in less than 30 years. But the Metropolitan Council has a plan.

Blueprint 2030, a plan two years in the making, is a hybrid of transportation theory, housing plans and environmental policy outlining how the region can manage its growth for the next 28 years.

The plan provides a map for city and county policymaking in the seven-county metropolitan area, including Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington counties.

The plan outlines the challenges, opportunities and benefits transportation, housing and environmental policy provide for the future and how these challenges can be effectively addressed.

Minnesota local governments are required to do all development planning by the Metropolitan Council deadline of 2008. The 100-page Blueprint 2030 is meant to serve as a framework for these community comprehensive plans.

The last comprehensive plan of this type was published in 1996, and it looked toward the year 2020.

The plan, however, does not stand alone. Bonnie Kollodge, media relations coordinator for the council, said that over the past few years the council has launched a number of initiatives that were integrated into the council’s current plans.

“A lot of that work has been integrated into the blueprint,” she said. “It’s been a good two-year process.”

Blueprint 2030 discusses the need for communities to reinvest in existing urban areas instead of looking outwards. The

council is going to push its resources into revamping existing centers along highways and transit corridors as a framework for growth.

John Kari, a planning analyst for the council, said reinvesting in these areas is a more effective use of existing resources than building new communities.

The Metropolitan Council, Kari said, is trying to recognize the continual cycles of investment and reinvestment these communities go through.

“Not all investments wear out at the same time,” Kari said.

The projected growth will take place in already-developed communities. The document states that using these existing urban and rural centers provides more opportunities to combine transit, housing, offices, retail and services into single neighborhoods. This will reduce the number of people on the highways and bring a greater “community feel” to these neighborhoods.

According to the plan, not only will the plan bring money to struggling urban centers, but it will also preserve rural areas and agriculture in areas surrounding the city that would otherwise be developed.

Reinvesting in existing communities, however, has its downfalls. Rather than building something out of nothing, a lot of demolition is involved. There are also pollution problems with older buildings, Kari said.

“Sometimes you can adaptively reuse a structure, but it may not be as efficient as brand new,” he said.

According to the Metropolitan Council, one of the most important issues to be addressed is transportation.

The plan states that the amount of rush-hour traffic increased more than five times from 1982-2000. The average commuter paid more than $1,000 in wasted fuel and lost time spent in traffic during 2000.

Another transportation challenge is state and city investments in transportation improvements that are not keeping pace with the demand for a more effective infrastructure. Money spent on Twin Cities’ transit is approximately 60 percent of what comparable metro areas spend per capita.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak defended the council’s blueprint at a public hearing Oct. 16, applauding its focus on rail transit as an efficient transportation solution.

“Every night when you come out, and you’re in rush-hour traffic and you look up, and you see a billboard that tells you what’s wrong with light rail transit,” he said, “I want you to remember that you’re seeing that in a traffic jam. And that traffic jam is created by the fact that we’ve ignored transit.”

Critics of the plan, however, are not quite so optimistic.

Kari said the plan’s critics want a system that invests in highways as well as the railways the council discusses. They have also demanded an air quality index in the plan, which has since been added to the blueprint.

There has also been a lot of discussion about the plan’s implementation.

“People wanted more ideas of what outcomes we expected and how we were going to monitor them,” Kari said, adding the plan is not just another way for the council to spend money.

“Implementation isn’t just based on spending money – it’s how we make lots of decisions day to day,” he said. “The blueprint implementation is not dependent upon new resources – it’s Ö how we use existing resources.”

For now, the council is deciding what to do with the blueprint. The uncertainty stems from whether the new council, which will serve under Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty, will be ready to implement the plan.

Because of the 2000 Census, the council needs to be redistricted, Kari said, and current members are unsure how this will affect the plan.

Once the blueprint is passed, other more specific implementation and enforcement policy plans must be passed.

By putting this blueprint together, council members and community partners have acknowledged the city should not worry about how much it will grow but rather how well.

“We can’t build our way out of transportation problems – adding more lanes to freeways is a short-term solution that has been shown to lead to even more long-term problems,” Blueprint 2030 states. “We can’t create rivers and lakes and forests when they have been altered or eliminated by development. And we can’t avoid growth.”

Emily Johns covers the metropolitan area and welcomes comments at [email protected]