Olmsted commissioners advocate bigger transit picture

August 9, 2018
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Olmsted County commissioners want Destination Medical Center transportation efforts to consider a broader focus.

County Board Chairwoman Shelia Kiscaden said that as planners look for ways to encourage local residents to change transportation options, they must consider the city also serves the outlying communities.

“We are a regional center,” she said. “People come from outside. They are not going to ride their bikes from St. Charles, but they are going to come in here and shop and they are going to come in here and use professional services.”

Commissioner Ken Brown said he’s been hearing growing concerns from business owners when it comes to providing parking for staff and customers.

“One of the fears is that we’re driving all of our professional businesses — attorneys, accountants — out of downtown,” he told consultants from SRF Consulting Group Inc., which is leading efforts for a 20-year DMC transportation effort.

Ken Holte and Beth Bartz updated commissioners Tuesday on 18 months of study and plans to move efforts forward.

DMC plans call for Olmsted County to provide $46 million, as part of the planned $585 million in public spending spread across two decades. The amount is based on the county’s obligation to cover 40 percent of the anticipated $116 million in transit costs.

Bartz, SRF’s project manager for local efforts, said work being done seeks to alleviate some parking and transportation pressures, as more daily commuters are encouraged to park outside the downtown area.

She said plans for increased outlying parking options and a bus-rapid-transit system should relieve some congestion, noting the proposed BRT can be thought of as “light-rail on rubber wheels.”

While the frequent bus trips on a set route will cater to commuters who simply need to “store” their cars while at work, she said it also should free up spaces for others who come into the city for shorter periods or who need more-frequent access to their vehicles.

She said that doesn’t mean more parking won’t be built, but it should reduce the amount of construction required.

“We can’t have 16,000 more spaces downtown,” she said, adding that plans call for doubling the 4,000 off-street downtown spaces.

While SRF is tasked with focusing on the DMC core and how to get people in and out of the area, Holte said the consultants have discussed how policies need to consider the larger picture.

“We still have a lot of opportunity do things that benefit people,” he said.

Bartz said preliminary work has focused on technical information to consider infrastructure and policy needs, but ongoing efforts also are looking at what fits best for the DMC district and those who populate it as residents, employees and visitors.

Kiscaden said keeping the larger focus will be key for the success of the district and its businesses, noting failure to do so could drive potential customers to big-box stores on the edge of the city.

“We’ve got to do more than build a campus,” she said, referring to the DMC district. “You’re building a campus for Mayo and the Discovery Square, but the Heart of the City has been the Heart of the City, not the heart of the campus.”

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