By JANE MCCLURE
Concerns about transit and transportation system capacities when Minnesota United FC starts playing at its planned Midway Soccer Stadium are among the issues raised in a study of potential project impacts, which was to be ratified Aug. 9 as the Monitor went to press. Metropolitan Council and Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) are among those asking whether city officials and consultants are being realistic about potential transit use and street and highway capacity on game days.
The comments were among those made in response to an Areawide Urban Alternatives Review (AUAR) for the Major League Soccer stadium and Midway Center redevelopment.
The AUAR is a study process used to determine all types of environmental issues that could be created by new development, and to suggest measures needed to mitigate those impacts.
On June 20 St. Paul city officials released the final AUAR, supporting documentation, public comments, and comment response. The AUAR itself is 105 pages long. The supporting documents, comments, and responses filled 469 pages.
“As the responsible governmental unit overseeing this review, the city values the input received from community members and agencies, and we have incorporated changes where appropriate,” said Planning and Economic Development (PED) Director Jonathan Sage-Martinson. “We are confident that this final document provides the thorough framework to identify and address any potential impacts of proposed development on this site, providing a clear path forward for redevelopment.”
City officials were set to ratify the document Aug. 9, if there are no state or federal agency objections. It is to be updated every five years, as the soccer stadium and adjacent Midway Center are redeveloped.
During a 30-day comment period that ended July 6, city officials heard from five state and regional agencies, six organizations and 23 individuals. Many commenters weighed in on multiple topics including traffic, transit use, spillover parking, noise, air pollution, and site cleanup due to past contamination. City staff and consultants working on the AUAR considered almost 60 comments to be substantive. Those comments were then used to add to or expand upon information in the AUAR.
The documents state that responses are generally confined to “substantive issues that address the accuracy and completeness of the information provided in the draft analysis, potential impacts that may warrant further analysis, further information that may be required in order to secure permits for specific projects in the future, and mitigation measures or procedures necessary to prevent significant environmental impacts within the area when actual development occurs.”
Questions centered on transit and transportation system impacts on soccer game days. Metropolitan Council questioned the assumption used to determine “mode split” for travel to the site, or how it was determined the number of people who would drive, take transit or shuttle buses, walk or bike. “
Photo left: The most recent site plan shows how little parking is actually planned in the first phase of the superblock project. Although the city and the league are making contingency plans for shuttle buses and the use of mass transit, those plans have been called into question. (Illustration provided)
Those assumptions appear to be tilted heavily to make the case that few if any roadway improvements are needed from this massive traffic generator,” the council letter stated. The regional government also said transportation analysis should look at the overlap of transportation modes of auto access, pedestrian access, and transit access, instead of studying the issues separately.
Red flags were raised about the high percentage of shuttle bus and transit service usage estimated, as Metropolitan Council stated, “Additional potential capacity on the Green Line does not automatically translate to usage.”
City officials responded that they made conservative assumptions, given the lack of off-street parking on and near the site, and indicated they believe traffic, transit use, and parking can be “effectively managed.” The AUAR does recommend a more detailed transportation management plan be developed.
Metropolitan Council also noted that weekend evening game transit riders would be competing with regular transit users. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) also raised concerns about scheduling of games, which could affect air pollution levels. City staff replied that weekday game times are expected to be either 7 or 7:30pm, with most vehicles arriving after afternoon rush hour. The response also stated that the other weekday events held at the stadium wouldn’t attract as much traffic. Concerts are not expected to held at the stadium.
MnDOT commented on I-94, Snelling and Concordia avenues’ capacity and indicated it would ask for further reviews as the stadium and shopping center redevelopment moves forward. One issue MnDOT raised is that of having as many as 150 shuttle buses per hour descending on the proposed stadium drop-off on Concordia Ave.
Yet another concern raised repeatedly was that of space for light rail and bus patrons to queue as they enter and exit transit vehicles. That is among issues being studied by Metro Transit, according to the AUAR.
Many of the area residents who commented are worried about spillover parking in adjacent neighborhoods. One answer the city had to those comments was that residents can seek residential permit parking districts. However, the St. Paul Department of Public Works is studying changes to the permit district regulations.
It’s not clear yet how those regulations could change. At least one permit request has been put on hold until the new regulations are adopted.
Lexington-Hamline Community Council was among the groups raising questions about spillover parking in adjacent neighborhoods. The council pointed out that using Concordia University as an example of available off-street parking may not be realistic, as much of the university’s parking is in use much of the time.
Noise was also a concern, with some neighbors raising concerns about fireworks after soccer games. The AUAR states that use of fireworks is being considered by Minnesota United. Noise impacts were studied in a one-mile radius of the stadium site.
Other comments centered on historic issues, from Minnesota Historical Society and the state archaeological office. A search of the Minnesota Historic Society Historic Resources Inventory revealed that no structures or ruins in the AUAR area or its proximity are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). However, some properties in and around the AUAR area are eligible for review for the NRHP due to their age and contribution to the commercial corridor along University Ave. These structures were identified in an earlier environmental review for the Green Line LRT. Within the AUAR area, three structures are the former Midway National Bank (American Bank) at 1578 University Ave. W. and Midway Shopping Center West Building (Big Top Liquor) at 1460 University Ave. W. But the AUAR and state officials note that while the building is older and predates the rest of the shopping center, its extensive alterations have removed historic features.
No archaeological sites in or around the AUAR area were identified as part of the inventory search, but state officials are interested in seeing if there are archaeological features on the former bus barn site or beneath the shopping center.
The revised AUAR and all other documents are available at stpaul.gov/SnellingMidwayAUAR.