Love Thy Neighborhood: an overview of transit projects in the twin cities
Columns, Love Thy Neighborhood

Love Thy Neighborhood: an overview of transit projects in the twin cities

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Things seem to be picking up speed here in the Twin Cities when it comes to mass transit. The Twin Cities are having nothing short of a mass transit boom, and these days everyone from the cities and suburbs seems to be getting on board, pun intended. From new stations to new light rail lines and bus rapid transit (BRT), getting around on mass transit in the Twin Cities is about to become a whole lot easier in the coming years.

The long-awaited Green Line, formerly know as the Central Corridor, is due to open next year right before the All Star Game is played in Minneapolis. According to the Met Council, the Green Line is now 94 percent completed. Most of the physical work appears to be finished, and the electrification and wiring of the lines is now occurring. Some sections have already begun testing trains during the night.

The new line will add 18 new stations to the METRO System, and will connect with the Blue Line at the Downtown East/Metrodome Station. Trains are going to come every 10 minutes and it will take almost 40 minutes to travel the length of the line.

Thankfully, the Snelling Avenue station is in the middle of the two, so when it opens, it will take around 20 minutes to get to either downtown.

One other light rail project will be opening as well next year. Dubbed “The Interchange,” it will serve as the terminus and new central transit center in Downtown Minneapolis.

Essentially the current terminus of the Blue Line is being moved down a little ways by Target Field. The new station will allow riders to connect to both the Blue, Green, and Northstar Commuter rail lines in addition to bus routes and several bike trails. According to the Met Council, “The Interchange” will also feature shops, restaurants and a large amphitheater and “Great Lawn.” This will be a flagship multi-modal transit center that will have almost 500 train departures a day. “The Interchange” is due to be completed next spring.

In the coming years, too, the Interchange will serve even more trains and riders as the Blue Line is extended north to Brooklyn Center and the Green Line is extended southwest through Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins and other southwest suburbs.

Currently the Green Line Extension, also known as the Southwest Light Rail Project, is in the midst of planning and engineering. Much debate has surfaced recently about the alignment of the line as well as the possible relocation of a freight line through St. Louis Park. Essentially, residents in the Kenwood neighborhood of Minneapolis no longer want the freight line next to their homes and want the light rail to travel through a tunnel instead of next to their homes. If the Kenwood residents get their way, then the freight line would have to be routed through St. Louis Park along an elevated railroad track that would run alongside other people’s homes. So planners are dealing with this problem now. This has caused the price of the project to skyrocket and cost-cutting measures such as shortening the line are being discussed.

My position on it is that the whole project needs to be scrapped. This is essentially a $1.5 billion light rail line for suburban workers to get into the city. The line should have traveled through Uptown and the neighborhoods surrounding downtown that are some of the most dense and fastest-growing in the region, not to mention some of the most visited. Putting the line through one of the richest neighborhoods in Minneapolis, the Kenwood neighborhood, makes zero sense. If it is routed through Uptown it most certainly would have to be put in a tunnel, but if they are going to put a tunnel on either route, I would pick the Uptown route, hands down.

In the meantime, Minneapolis has pushed forward on their streetcar plan. The starter line, known as the Nicollet-Central Line, will travel for 3.4 miles on Nicollet from Lake Street to 5th Street NE. The project will cost anywhere between $180-200 million and serve an estimated 9,200 daily riders, according to the City of Minneapolis. The 3.4-mile line is only the starter line; it is expected that the line will be extended in the future to 9 miles. Other lines are planned as well, creating an entire streetcar network in Minneapolis.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is also emerging in the Twin Cities. The Red Line, a BRT line running along Cedar Ave. connecting the Mall of America to the southern suburbs, opened in June. The Red Line will eventually be joined in 2018 by the Orange Line, which will run along I-35 W in Minneapolis.

Metro Transit is also in the process of planning Arterial BRT lines that will run in urban areas. The first line, known as the A line, will run between the 46th Street Station, east on Ford Parkway, and north on Snelling to Rosedale Mall, the same route as the current 84 bus line. The buses will be distinctive and look different from other city buses. It is planned for the buses to run every 10 minutes every day and for stations to be located both at Grand and Snelling and St. Clair and Snelling, meaning that Macalester will have two BRT stations on campus.

The A line will make traveling this corridor significantly easier, as stations will be built that are similar to current light rail stations. They will feature everything from distinct signage, real-time travel displays and off-board payment systems.

What do all these new transit projects mean for the Twin Cities? They mean that traveling by mass transit will be faster and easier. New economic development will occur along these lines and our environment will be cleaner as cars are taken off the road. More people will have affordable transportation options to work, play and shop.

It also means that getting to and from campus and around the city will be easier for Mac students. Internships that were once far away might be more accessible. Shopping and going out to dinner won’t just be limited to bus lines that serve Macalester or the rare ride on the Blue Line to the Mall of America. Overall, I’m super excited and can’t wait for all this to open.

October 4, 2013

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