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As stadium opening comes closer, traffic concerns gain attention

Posted on 06 August 2018 by Calvin

The new soccer stadium will seat 19,400 fans. With its opening predicted less than a year away, questions on how all those fans will get to and from the stadium take center stage. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota United)

As construction continues on and around the Allianz Field Major Leaguer Soccer stadium, how to get fans to and from the facility on game days continues to be scrutinized.

One step is that of allowing two interim parking lots along Snelling Ave. The St. Paul City Council will hold a public hearing at 5:30pm Wed., Aug. 15 on an interim use permit request by MUSC Holdings, LLC. That entity is developing the stadium for the Minnesota United Football Club.

The request is the latest in a series of actions tied to ongoing work at the stadium. In the past few weeks, new streets and parking spaces have taken shape. Space where Midway, and later American Bank, stood for many years was paved. The long-vacant lot at the northwest corner of St. Anthony Ave. and Pascal St. has been paved for a permanent lot.

The Spruce Tree Dr./Snelling Ave. traffic light was being removed as of the Monitor deadline. The traffic signal will move south to Shields Ave.

The St. Paul Planning Commission Transportation Committee in July began its review of what’s ahead for game day transportation planning. The planning has a lot of moving pieces, for people who take transit, ride shuttle buses, bike, walk or drive to soccer games. Work also needs to be done before any plans would go out for community comment, which could take place as early as September.

By then planners should have a good idea of the projected “mode split” for games. That is, they could have estimates on how many people would take transit to the games versus walking, driving or biking.

Part of the committee’s July discussion centered on the interim lots. Some Transportation Committee members worry that the lots, which are eventually to be replaced with office/retail buildings and structured parking, might be difficult to get rid of once they go into place.

But there are also worries about soccer fans parking in the surrounding neighborhood, and how to encourage ways to get to the games that don’t involve driving. Ways to promote transit and shuttle bus use were discussed by the committee. Those are steps the soccer team would likely take the lead on, in conjunction with ticket sales.

An alternative urban areawide review (AUAR) study of potential environmental impacts of the stadium was completed about two years ago. It outlines potential transit and transportation impacts and raised concerns about the possibilities for traffic congestion. A site plan has also won city approval.

Minnesota United FC and city officials have continued to look at the transportation issues since then, working on a more detailed plan that is to be completed by the end of 2018. One assumption is that many people will take transit to the games and not drive, using the Green Line light rail, A Line rapid bus and other area routes. Another is that others will arrive by bus, either from park and ride lots or from bars and restaurants that offer such shuttle services.

The stadium will have a capacity of 19,400 fans.

Senior City Planner Josh Williams said the intent is to have a plan in place that at a minimum would be reviewed annually.

Developing the plan needs involvement not just from the city and team, but also from Metro Transit, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and other affected parties.

But the planning itself raises questions. One is the level of Planning Commission Transportation Committee involvement. Committee members said they want to see something they can review, but likely at a higher level.

“We should be looking at how people are moving to the stadium and through the area,” said Planning Commissioner Christopher Ochs. “We don’t need to see every curb cut.”

One challenge the committee will have a role in is looking at parking demand, especially as stadium operations start next year. “We know there is going to be a desire to find parking,” said Williams. “There’s not going to be enough parking for everyone who wants to drive.”

Short-term plans for the area call for interim parking lots off of Snelling on sites eyed over the long term for redevelopment. The future developments could be built with structured parking that could be shared with soccer fans. But it’s not known when buildout of the property around the stadium would take place, raising the concerns that there could be protests when the lots go away.

One issue those involved in transportation planning will have to look at is how game days could affect the surrounding neighborhoods and demand for on-street parking there. Williams said that’s something planners want to discourage.

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