Light-rail riders, get ready to hoof it, bike it or take a replacement bus to finish your journey into downtown Minneapolis.
Starting Thursday, U.S. Bank Stadium Station will be the end of the line for both Blue and Green trains as Metro Transit begins an 11-day shutdown in the downtown area for a maintenance project that includes replacing sections of tracks, upgrading switches and repairing concrete and overhead wires.
Large “Rider Alert” signs were posted at light-rail platforms to inform riders of the what will be the longest disruption in light-rail service since trains began operating in 2004, a disruption that will alter the commuting routines for the 16,000 passengers that board or alight daily at the four affected stations: Government Plaza, Nicollet Mall, Hennepin/Warehouse and Target Field.
“I’m going to have to walk a lot further to get where I am going,” said Billy Goddin, who lives near Loring Park and already walks to Nicollet Mall to catch the train. “I’ll have to leave an hour earlier. It will be more inconvenient, but I’ll be able to get where I am going.”
Track work will impact more than just transit riders as streets crossing the light-rail tracks on 5th Street will be closed at various times when new track is put down. The intersection at 5th Street and Hennepin Avenue will be closed from June 27 through July 2. Buses that normally run on Hennepin will be detoured to Marquette and 2nd avenues S.
The rail shutdown coincides with a big road construction project on Interstate 94 that will force traffic to share lanes inside the Lowry Hill Tunnel as part of a larger project that has the freeway down to two lanes in each direction between downtown and Brooklyn Center.
It also comes as Minneapolis hosts several large events that will bring thousands of visitors downtown, including Twin Cities Pride Festival Friday through Sunday and the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships running Sunday through July 4.
Move Minneapolis launched a “Get Around: Move Past the Gridlock” campaign to educate downtown commuters and visitors about opportunities to take other transit options as well as carpooling, biking and walking. Nice Ride Minnesota will charge only $1 for the first 30 minutes for those who use the company’s app to reserve a bike.
Rides exceeding 30 minutes will be charged $3 per half-hour, the normal fee. The closest Nice Ride station to U.S. Bank Stadium is located at S. 4th Street and Park Avenue S., and it will be bigger than other stations, said Nice Ride Executive Director Bill Dossett.
“There are lots of ways to get downtown,” said Mary Morse Marti, Move Minneapolis’ executive director. “You just need to plan for it.”
Trains will operate as normal along the Blue Line between U.S. Bank Stadium and the Mall of America and on the Green Line between U.S. Bank Stadium and Union Depot in St. Paul. Like with previous weekend shut downs, buses will substitute for trains between the Vikings’ stadium and Target Field from 6:45 p.m. Thursday (the Twins have an afternoon game that day before heading out of town for the remainder of the shutdown) through 5 a.m. July 3.
Rider Kathy Schilling said she used the shuttle buses earlier this month when the light rail lines were down.
“I took the bus to U.S. Bank and then got on the train. It takes a few minutes longer, but that’s not a problem for me,” she said Thursday while waiting for a train at the Nicollet Mall station. She said that won’t be inconvenient for her, “but for other people who have to get to work it will.”
Conducting maintenance work during the peak of summer is not ideal, said John Humphrey, deputy chief of light rail operations, but if the weather turns sour Metro Transit needs a window of time to complete the work before winter. That work includes replacing tracks worn down by the 1.3 million trips trains have made since the Blue Line started up 13 years ago. Most of the wear is on curved sections of track near Hennepin Avenue and U.S. Bank Stadium. The work also includes replacing the switch at Park Avenue to allow trains to be shifted from track to track automatically rather than manually and upgrading equipment and concrete at the switch near Hennepin Avenue. On Tuesday, welders were already assembling a section of track near the Hennepin Avenue switch.
The result for riders, Humphrey said, will be better reliability, durability and flexibility, especially after large events when extra trains are needed.
Eastbound replacement buses will operate on 4th Street and westbound buses will operate on 3rd Street and Washington Avenue, meaning those trips could take longer.
“It will be very inconvenient,” said Doris Bowman of Brooklyn Center on Tuesday as she got off a Green Line train at Nicollet Mall and headed for a bus on 7th Street to take home. But for 11 days “I can endure that,” she said.