After three years of lobbying, cajoling and pestering elected officials to provide elevator access between St. Paul’s skyway system and the new Green Line light-rail transit downtown, there was just one more thing for Rick Cardenas to do Thursday.
Make sure the elevator worked.
“Yep, it works,” a beaming Cardenas said as he wheeled his motorized chair off the elevator of the special tower built to provide access to the new rail line.
The tower, which adjoins the station at the center of downtown, was constructed on the spot of the old Bremer Bank building, which Cardenas noted, had several elevators to ferry people from the skyway to the street. But original plans for the light-rail station there did not include an elevator-stairway link — a giant inconvenience for many disabled downtown residents, as well as others who could use some indoor refuge from the elements before catching a train.
So Cardenas, co-director of Advocating Change Together, got to work. He testified before the Legislature. He spoke to the Metropolitan Council. He made his case to the St. Paul City Council.
“Rick worked tirelessly to keep it in front of us,” said Dave Thune, the St. Paul City Council member who represents downtown.
Metropolitan Council member Rich Kramer, a St. Paul Johnson High School grad, joked that it was hard for him to credit Cardenas with playing such a key role because Cardenas went to archrival St. Paul Harding. Of course, he happily did so — as several other people in wheelchairs looked on.
“Perhaps this wouldn’t be here without Rick Cardenas,” Kramer said of the $1.7 million project, which included a $800,000 federal grant. “Or it wouldn’t be here by now without Rick Cardenas.”
Then, it was time to take the inaugural ride up the elevator in what is being dubbed “the Cardenas Connection.”
A smiling Cardenas said, “A little harassment goes a long way.”