Federal grant could spur Minneapolis streetcar plans

by Trevor Born

Streetcars disappeared from the Minneapolis transit landscape in favor of buses in the 1950s, but a federal grant marks the first significant step in bringing them back.

Minneapolis received a $900,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration to study “transit improvements” to connect downtown with nearby urban areas along Nicollet and Central avenues, the city announced Wednesday.

The grant, along with a $300,000 match from the city, will fund a study examining a possible streetcar route traveling from the new 46th Street Bus Rapid Transit Station in South Minneapolis, continuing north along Nicollet Avenue into downtown and through Nicollet Mall, then along Central Avenue through North Minneapolis and terminating at the Columbia Heights Transit Center.

The $1.2 million study will analyze costs and benefits, route feasibility, traffic flow and potential ridership. It will also weigh the streetcar plan against alternative improvements like enhanced bus service along those roads.

The Nicollet-Central Urban Circulator Alternatives Analysis project was one of 24 grants worth $25.7 million awarded through the FTA’s Alternative Analysis grant program. Dakota County recieved $1.2 million to study a potential transitway between downtown St. Paul and Rosemount.

The study will take about 18 months and comes at a seemingly good time for federally-funded streetcar projects. In the past 14 months alone the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded $408 million to streetcar projects in 10 cities, including Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis and Portland, Ore.