The first centerpiece along the new Green Line light-rail line officially opened to the public Thursday following an 11 a.m. dedication.

Disability advocate Rick Cardenas, co-director of Advocating Change Together, was the first to cross the Central Station Skyway at 5th and Cedar Streets in downtown St. Paul. Leaders from the Metropolitan Council, Ramsey County,  St. Paul City Council members and Metro Transit also were on hand for the opening.

Built at a cost of $1.7 million, the skyway and tower housing an elevator and stairway will be "a great asset for community residents, commuters and those who visit St. Paul on a regular basis," said Metro Transit spokesman Drew Kerr. "It's the gateway to St. Paul."

The skyway will make for easier connections between the light-rail station and nearby bus stops, and to nearby attractions such as the Xcel Energy Center, parks and museums, Kerr said.

"This stairway-elevator tower builds on the excitement that is spreading throughout downtown St. Paul with the Green Line's opening, and affirms our commitment to making transit in the Twin Cities open and accessible to all individuals," said Met Council member Rich Kramer.

While built for everybody, the link will make it easier for those with disabilities who use public transportation. That's why Cardenas was be the first to roll his wheelchair across the enclosed bridge. He will use the Green Line to get to his job on University Avenue, Kerr said.

"This elevator is going to make a big difference, especially during inclement weather," Cardenas said. "People with mobility problems of any sort will utilize this option, making downtown St. Paul more viable for everyone."

Green Line trains won't start transporting passengers until June 14. Trains will run from Union Depot to Target Field in downtown Minneapolis.

The skyway is among several transit improvements made or being made at Cedar Street and Fifth Street, Fifth Street and Minnesota Street, Sixth Street and Cedar Street and Minnesota and Sixth Street this year.

They include new shelters, public art, security upgrades, real time arrival signs, lighting, bicycle amenities and landscaping are planned for each of the stops, which together see more than 6,000 daily boardings.

Photo credit: Metro Transit

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