It has been publicized that Hennepin County is working on plans to build a “wishbone overlook” on the upper portion of Saint Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River. The Star Tribune article states cost-estimates of $50-100 Million USD to build this project. I’m going to err on the side of the upper estimate, because at Streets.MN we all know that infrastructure improvements are seldom completed under budget.
I personally don’t find this plan worthwhile. After all, here are 4 existing spots that you can currently enjoy the grandeur of the Mississippi River around Saint Anthony Falls (for free!):
There is also this 5th option that is being floated by Friends of the Lock and Dam: an outlook and public space built out of the existing (decommissioned) structure.
After a lot of thinking I’ve found a few other options that are a (much) better use of $100 million dollars:
We could fully fund the D-Line BRT which would upgrade the Route 5 and significantly improve accessibility for many people in North Minneapolis and South Minneapolis as well as serve the neighboring cities of Brooklyn Center and Bloomington.
We could extend the Midtown Greenway across the Mississippi river – a project very dear to me personally – that would make crossing the river easier and safer than traversing to Lake St for the 1000s of people that walk, roll, and bike there every day.
We could build 90+ Very Affordable Housing Units (<50% AMI). Through an email exchange with Barbara Jeanette at Alliance Housing, I learned Alliance recently completed building a 44-unit supportive housing building at 3001 East Lake Street for $9.8 Million. This building checks all the boxes: dense, affordable, human-scale, and only 3 parking spaces.
After doing all that, we could still perform 4-3 lane conversions and increase safety for all users on 40+ miles* of Hennepin County Roads and redefine that these roads can indeed be safe and welcoming spaces for all residents in the neighborhoods they pass through – not just the motorists on the far sides.
So in summary:
- $40 Million: Fully fund D-Line BRT.
- $20 Million: Extend the Midtown Greenway across the Mississippi River.
- $20 Million: Build 90+ units of desperately needed Affordable Housing.
- $20 Million: 4-3 & PBL a majority of Hennepin County Death Roads within Minneapolis.
- $0 Dollars: Close Main St and West River Road to vehicle traffic to provide a more enjoyable recreational experience for everyone, all the time.
This is what I would do with $100 million dollars of Public Money. What would you do? Please share your ideas in the comments.
*Using cost estimates from an exchange with Minneapolis Public Works about the much anticipated U of MN Protected Bikeways Project which is building 3 miles of Protected Bike Lanes for a cost of 1.5 million.
That is…….. a lot of money.
Isn’t it?! I keep reading about these highway projects that cost $200+ million each, and shrug if off because they’re written as a single paragraph.
Writing this really put that amount of money in perspective.
You’ve proposed excellent ideas that would all be better than this wishbone being floated about. I hope our county commissioners read this piece.
This sounds like a great set of projects that would be a nice economic jump start post virus shut-down.
The upper lock party platform looks awesome, BTW. That makes a whole lot more sense than this wishbone thing.
I’m happy to hear you agree. That would be like the Guthrie’s Infinity Bridge but on the water!
In doing research for this post, I took some pictures from the Nicollet Island Pavilion, and while that is very close to where the pinnacle would be for the Wishbone proposal, the actual falls are quite a bit further downstream and there is not much to see.
I understand they want to re-use those very large castings (the white dots on the google image), but they would probably be better off being removed.
What is PBL?
Protected bike lane.
According to Glen Taylor’s Strib, the proposed $50-$100 million concrete project “would be the splashiest new development concept for the Mississippi riverfront in downtown Minneapolis in recent history.”
Is anyone following the money? Who paid RSP Architects to design this “splashy” new development? Who got paid to produce this “splashing” Vimeo cartoon.
If Commissioner Opat and his “partners” manage push this project through, like they did for Pohlad’s “splashy”, currently empty, baseball stadium, who’ll get the $50-$100 million to finance and build the “splashy” new project?
(The “splashy” new “Wishbone” would make a good campaign issue for an Opat opponent. Anyone running for his Hennepin County Commissioner seat in the next election?)
Not spending the $50-$100 million on anything would be much better than spending it on the proposed concrete project. As noted in the Strib article: “Publicly financed downtown riverfront attractions have proved expensive for taxpayers to maintain and repair.” The $50-$100 million “Wishbone” won’t last forever. After 10 or 20 or 30 or however many years, at the end of the proposed $50-$100 million “Wishbone” lifespan, the City/Park Board/whomever would have to come up with the money to rebuild the crumbling concrete structure.
Concerning how I’d spend the $100 million, I like the idea of converting the 40+ miles of Death Roads to single lanes in each direction with a center turn lane ($20 million) and extending the Greenway across the river ($20 million).
I have no experience with BRT, good or bad, but for $40 million, I’d buy hundreds of 10-20-passenger electric minibuses, and place them on every major city through street, rather than placing maybe a dozen or fewer 125-passenger BRT vehicles on one bus route running between Brooklyn Center and Bloomington. Rather than spending $40 million on a not very rapid, 70-minute end-to-end, Brookdale to the Megamall bus line, scooping up passengers at transit stations located in pedestrian-wasteland, highway shitholes in Brooklyn Center and Bloomington, I’d spend the money placing fleets of relatively low-cost, low-fare, electric minibuses on major city through streets like Chicago, West Broadway and Penn along the Chicago-Penn transit line. The jitney-like minibus service could possibly extend slightly outside the city limits to major access points like the regional libraries, major shopping malls, and the airport. The low fare minibuses would provide high-frequency, low cost service to high numbers of people who actually do walk, bike and use transit to get places, as opposed to service to areas where virtually everyone drives everywhere. For the price of one $40 million BRT line running maybe a dozen or fewer 125-passenger buses, you could buy 400 $100,000 minibuses, each capable of carrying a dozen or so passengers, and put them on every major city street, providing cheap, frequent, “all-the-time” schedule-free service. With the minibus alternative, you also wouldn’t be operating nearly empty 45,500 lb, 125-passenger buses at 10:00am.
I’m not thrilled with the 44-unit box that “checks all the boxes.” A high concentration of people or cars or anything else, aka “density”, is not necessarily a good thing. There must be a better way to build affordable housing than to stick what looks like 44 single adults, along with their visitors, into efficiency apartments under one roof, and then pay Hayes Gibson International a substantial fee to collect rent, issue evictions, and hire and fire the building staff. For $20 million, I’d build 100 small, cottage-like, $200,000 homes, rather than a couple boxes containing 100 efficiency apartments, managed by a for profit business with corporate offices in Indiana and California.
I can guarantee you, none of the Hayes Gibson International executives are living in an Alliance Housing box filled with the $500 – $692 per month efficiency apartments managed for a profit.