The first of the Twin Cities’ modern light rail lines was built between downtown Minneapolis and the suburb of Bloomington. The line connects Target Field downtown to the International Airport and the Mall of America and was intended to help ease congestion along Highway 55 and the balance of the Hiawatha corridor.
Project Type:New Line Project Mode:Light Rail Average Weekday Riders:31,612 Length (mi):12.00
Economic Distress:0.51 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):2003 Population Growth Rate (%):0.62
Employment Growth Rate (%):1.64 Market Size:2,436,593 Airport Travel Distance: Topography:4
Region:Great Lakes / Plains State:MN County:Hennepin County
City:Minneapolis & Bloomington City Urban/Class Level:Metro Local Area:City N/A
Impact Area:Hennepin County Transportation System:N/A GIS Lat/Long:44.920741 / -93.219845
Initial Study Date:1999 Post Constr. Study Date:2009
Constr. Start Date:2000 Constr. End Date:2004
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): 2000 Planned Cost (YOE $):675,400,000
Actual Cost (YOE $):715,300,000 Actual Cost (curr $):904,605,000
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
Select a region to display the conditions for that region:
NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
|Income (in $M's)||26.90||15.30||42.20|
|Output (in $M's)||53.50||43.30||96.80|
The Hiawatha Light Rail Line was built as the first of a series of transit projects planned for the Minneapolis region. Although historically Minneapolis and the surrounding area had an extensive network of streetcars, in the decades immediately preceding the Hiawatha Light Rail Line, the region’s public transportation system was limited to buses. The first phase of this new line project opened in June of 2004, with the entire line fully operational by December of that year. The 12-mile, 17-station Hiawatha Light Rail Line runs from Minneapolis to Bloomington in the south, and connects downtown Minneapolis with the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America, among other neighborhoods and attractions. The total project cost for the Hiawatha Light Rail Line was $904,605 (in 2013 dollars). The primary motivation for this project was to decrease congestion along Highway 55 and provide a wider variety of transportation options. The line exceeded 2020 ridership forecasts within a year of being fully opened (2005), has increased average housing prices in the surrounding area, and has been used as a case study for successful transit projects in the region. It is estimated that the Hiawatha Light Rail Line project attracted 215 jobs in offices and residential complexes in the vicinity of the corridor.
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
The Hiawatha Light Rail Line was originally 12-miles long and included 17 stations. Currently, this line, renamed to Blue Line in 2011, is 12.4-miles long and has 19 stations. It runs from downtown Minneapolis on the northern end of the line along Minnesota State Highway 55, through Bloomington and the Mall of America in the south, and notably connects to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The Hiawatha Light Rail Line also connects to a large number of bus routes, with timed transfers between the light rail and these bus lines. Several park-and-ride lots bring riders to the light rail as well. Of note, the most popular park-and-ride lots, Ft. Snelling and 28th Ave in Bloomington, required expansion within five years of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line opening due to exceeded capacity. The Hiawatha Light Rail Line runs every 7.5 minutes during peak periods, from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., every 10 to 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and every 30 minutes from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Initially, service was provided with 11 train sets of 1-2 cars each; however in 2010, station improvements were made to accommodate 3-car train sets to increase capacity during peak periods.
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
The City of Minneapolis is a major U.S. city. The area’s population continues to grow, albeit at slower rates than other major U.S. cities. Because of this, much of the region’s growth cannot be directly attributed to the Hiawatha Light Rail Line’s construction. The Twin Cities area, which includes both Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as the surrounding counties, grew by more than 43% between 1980 and 2010. The Metropolitan Cities Council projects the region to grow by one million residents between 2000 and 2030. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area (larger than this case study area) encompasses a total of seven counties. However, this growth was also observed in the study area as well (Hennepin County). Between 1996 and 2000, the population in Hennepin County, which contains both Minneapolis and Bloomington, increased 3%--from 1,084,000 to 1,118,000—at an average annual growth rate of 0.62%. Over this same period, the annual employment growth rate was 2%, while the annual income growth rate was 4.96%. In 1999, the average per capita income for the cities of Minneapolis and Bloomington was $23,977, lower than the per capita income for Hennepin County, which was $28,789; both were higher than the per capita income for Minnesota, which was $23,198. This trend is present in 2009 as well; the per capita income for the cities of Minneapolis and Bloomington was $29,335, while the per capita income for Hennepin County was $35,334, and the state per capita income was $28,800.
The Hiawatha Light Rail Line runs through a diverse area that includes commercial, industrial, and residential properties. The northern end of the line in downtown Minneapolis is mostly commercial and mixed use. However, this changes to residential areas as one moves south along the corridor. This residential swath includes more low-income residents to the north and higher-income residents to the south. After moving through residential areas, the line passes through areas characterized by industrial land use, including the airport stations. Finally, the line travels to Bloomington, where the land use is again mostly commercial, including properties such as the Mall of America.
Downtown Minneapolis is the major employment center for the study area. According to several interviewees, the key industries in the area are professional services, financial services, and advertising agencies, however major industries also include healthcare and manufacturing. For the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region, major industries include education and health, which account for 23% of total employment; transportation, trade, and utilities, which account for 19% of total employment; and professional and business services, which account for 17% of total employment. The Minneapolis-Saint Paul region is home to the headquarters of several Fortune 500 companies, including United Health Group, Target, Best Buy, US Bank, and 3M, among others.
In the decades preceding the construction of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line, the Minneapolis’ public transportation network exclusively consisted of buses and often endured ridership challenges. In the 1950s, the Hiawatha Corridor was originally conceived as a six to eight-lane freeway. However, with the passing of the 1969 NEPA Act, area residents had an opportunity to challenge this plan and require the preparation of an EIS for the proposed facility. The Final EIS that resulted from this process included a much smaller, four-lane roadway, but also an adjacent light rail line through the corridor. The efforts to realize this light rail line continued in 1988 with the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority’s Light Rail Transit Plan, which included the Hiawatha Light Rail Line. However, the Hiawatha Light Rail project was not pursued until the mid- to late-1990s as congestion increased; with the help of community activism, public transportation and specifically, the railway system in the area, was given new life. The Hiawatha Light Rail Line was the first project to be implemented out of a series of planned projects to include heavy rail, light rail, and bus rapid transit. The primary intent of this project and the future planned project was to limit traffic growth along the Highway 55 corridor and provide additional transportation options.
According to interviewees, resident involvement influenced the prioritization of the Hiawatha Line above other subsequent lines and guided station design, resulting in a unique design for each neighborhood station. The original Hiawatha Line was 12-miles long and included 17 stations. The Hiawatha Line was renamed the Blue Line in 2011, and more recent projects have extended this line to 12.4-miles and 19 stations. At the time, the original Hiawatha Light Rail Line project was the largest and most complex project in Minnesota’s history, and involved coordination among state, local, and federal partners.
The total cost of the 12-mile, 17-stop light rail line was $904.6 million (in 2013 dollars) and was opened in two phases. Construction began in September 2000. The majority of the line opened by June 2004 and the southernmost portion, including the portion serving the Mall of America, opened in December 2004. The largest portion of the funds, $424 million, were federal, with $120.1 million from state grants through the Minnesota Legislature and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and $171.2 million through local grants from the Metropolitan Airport Commission and Hennepin County. The project was procured as two design-build contracts: one for the light rail vehicles and one for the balance of the project.
4.1 Transportation Impacts
Ridership estimates for the Hiawatha Light Rail Line exceeded expectations from the beginning of operations. In 2005, the first full year of operations, a total of 7.8 million users utilized the line, which was 58.2% greater than projections. By October of the first year of operation, ridership exceeded 2020 projections; monthly ridership by that time was one million. Ridership continued to grow, and as of 2016, 10.3 million users utilized the line. The Hiawatha Light Rail Line accounts for 13% of Metro Transit’s total ridership, which operates the balance of the region’s light rail network, as well as the region’s buses.
A before and after study of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line showed that vehicle traffic in the corridor was lower in both 2004 and 2006 compared to before the line opened, suggesting that the Hiawatha Line had a positive impact on congestion in the corridor. In 2003, prior to the opening of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line, the AADT along Highway 55 was 39,100, which decreased to 33,000 in 2004, and was just 38,000 in 2009. Another study of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line completed for Metro Transit immediately after the project opening showed that traffic volumes decreased on Highway 55 as early as November 2004. Twenty-four-hour traffic volumes between June (immediately before the light rail opening) and November 2004 dropped from 47,500 to 46,527 at the 26th Street E intersection, from 36,100 to 31,037 at 35th Street E intersection, and from 36,300 to 28,401 at the 54th Street E intersection. Interviewees support this claim, suggesting that the Hiawatha Line functions as it was designed; as transit infrastructure for individuals traveling from their homes to employment downtown. However, because this line runs along a state highway (Highway 55) and does not have signal priority, additional travel time savings aren’t realized through the downtown areas according interview respondents.
A study conducted by the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies also showed that the Hiawatha Light Rail Line has affected travel behavior in the corridor through improved transit service. According to the study, the light rail line acts as both a “catalyst and a magnet”, meaning that the line both encourages use by residents due to the improved service, and attracts new residents interested in utilizing the light rail line. While car use for residents in the Hiawatha Corridor was reduced, this effect was not observed in car ownership.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
Metro Transit has tracked the economic development within a half-mile radius of each of its new lines. For the Hiawatha Light Rail Line, Metro Transit has tracked a total of 33 projects that have opened in the corridor since the line’s opening in 2004. According to Metro Transit’s estimation, these projects amount to a total investment of $799 million (in 2016 dollars). investment; however, most of this development is residential. The initial post-project development occurred on the northwest side of the rail alignment throughout the Hiawatha Corridor. The east side of the alignment experienced slower growth and according to interviewees, did not see significant development until 2011. A study by the University of Minnesota completed in 2010 found a similar pattern in development and property values as well, concluding that this discrepancy was largely due to the highway and strip of industrial land between development on the east side of the rail alignment and the railway itself. This belief was echoed by interviewees as well. The University of Minnesota study found that for single family homes in the Hiawatha corridor, the construction of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line resulted in a $5,229 price premium. For multi-family homes, this premium was $15,755. However, these effects were not seen on the east side of the alignment.
Overall, residential development along the corridor has largely occurred to the south of Minneapolis, towards the center of the line. Commercial development primarily occurred at the north and south ends. One major residential development that was made possible by the Hiawatha Light Rail Line was the Oaks Station Place development adjacent to the 46th Street station. This development, which consists of 104 residential apartments, was built on land made available for development after the construction of the Hiawatha line by Metro Transit. Five new, permanent positions were created by this development, and are directly attributable to this project.
One major employer who chose to relocate from a nearby suburban area to a location adjacent to the line was Be the Match, an organization with approximately 800 employees. According to interviewees, this decision was based primarily on access to transit. Most employees for Be the Match relocated from their suburban location; however, five new jobs were created for building maintenance and security staff. All remaining jobs were relocated from the metropolitan area and were not considered to be resulting from this project. Similarly, interviewees advised that United Properties decided to renovate the Ford Center adjacent to the Hiawatha Light Rail Line due in part to access to transit. The historic Ford Model T plant, now the Ford Center, houses 265,000 square feet of multi-tenant office space; 205 new jobs at the Ford Center are directly attributable to this project. In total, 215 jobs are attributed to the project.
Planning documents promoting transit-oriented development were put in place in conjunction with the development of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line, further promoting development along the corridor. One example of this is the Hiawatha LRT Corridor Transit-Oriented Development Market Study developed in 1999. This document identified station areas with the greatest potential for transit-oriented development and developed associated plans for a 20-year period. Additionally, the Metropolitan Council’s Regional Development Framework, published in January 2004, outlines land use and economic development policies fundamental for the region’s transit corridors. These plans and policies enacted by the local government were instrumental in the development seen in the Hiawatha Corridor as well. The location of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line adjacent to the existing highway hindered development on the east side of the alignment, as crossing the busy highway was at times prohibitive for passengers. This area did not see significant development until 2011, seven years after the line’s opening.
Organization, Name, Title
Metro Transit, Mark Fuhrmann, Deputy General Manager
MK Bailey Consulting, Mary Kay Bailey, Consultant
City of Minneapolis, David Frank, Director of Economic Policy and Development
National Marrow Donor Program (Be the Match), Diane Dombeck, Administrative Specialist, Human Resources
Case Study Developed by University of Maryland