Saturday’s opening of the Green Line isn’t just a significant moment for transit, but also for urban revitalization and for regionalism. After decades of discussion, and years of planning, construction and controversy, passengers will finally board trains on the nearly $1 billion, 11-mile light-rail line originally called the Central Corridor.
For forward thinkers who recognize transit’s role in moving people, rooting communities, and attracting and retaining a world-class workforce, it’s a time to celebrate. It’s also a time to assess some of the key issues surrounding the line, including:
Development: The Metropolitan Council, the governing body that built and that will operate the Green Line, estimates that even before boarding begins, the line has spurred about $2.5 billion in projects that have been completed, are under construction or are planned. Some dispute that figure, pointing out that some of the construction would have occurred anyway. That’s no doubt true, but there should be no dispute that the public infrastructure investment has been met with a robust response from the private sector. The results will be apparent to passengers who simply look out the windows of the gleaming three-car trains. In just one example, this week ground was broken on the 4Marq, a 30-story, 262-unit luxury apartment tower adjacent to the light-rail station at 5th Street and Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis.
Both downtowns are experiencing a building boom as the Twin Cities lead the region out of the Great Recession. But it’s not just the central business districts — other parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul are thriving, too, as the central cities and first-ring suburbs enjoy growth that until recently had been mostly limited to the second-ring suburbs and beyond.
Speed: It will take about 48 minutes to get from Union Depot Station in downtown St. Paul to Target Field Station in downtown Minneapolis. But most passengers won’t ride end-to-end. For the more common shorter trips, the Green Line’s speed is reasonable by urban transit standards. Light rail, after all, is designed to be convenient and connecting, but not overly quick.
Safety: When the Blue Line (formerly Hiawatha) opened in 2004, earbuds and smartphones were not yet omnipresent. Those distractions, combined with a line that by design serves a dense urban area, make it imperative that Metro Transit’s safety campaign is amplified by nearby businesses and institutions, much like the University of Minnesota is doing. Safety will be an issue for pedestrians, cyclists and cars alike, and will be especially important in the fall when students return to the U and fans flock to both Vikings and Gophers games at TCF Bank Stadium.
As part of the opening weekend, rides will be free on Saturday and Sunday. Nine stations along the line will have opening ceremonies and celebrations throughout the day. Riders should stop in (and return) to thank the many businesses that hung tough during disruptive construction.
But after the well-deserved celebratory weekend, there’s real work to do to make sure the Green Line — and the entire transit system — lives up to its potential. July 14 is the deadline for five cities and Hennepin County to grant municipal consent to the Green Line extension (commonly called Southwest light rail).
To date, Hennepin County, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins and St. Louis Park have held or scheduled hearings and legislatively mandated votes on granting municipal consent to the nearly 16-mile, $1.68 billion line.
Although Minneapolis has yet to establish a timetable for a hearing or a vote, the city and Met Council have been in behind-the-scenes talks facilitated by a mediator. The proposed Met Council solution to the controversy of co-locating freight and light rail in the Kenilworth corridor may not be ideal, but it’s crucial for the Minneapolis City Council to get to “yes” on a project that would cement downtown Minneapolis as the region’s business center, as well as provide better access to city residents to the job-rich southwestern suburbs. A majority of Minneapolis council members — along with Mayor Betsy Hodges — campaigned as strong advocates of transit and regionalism. Rather than battling the Met Council, they should be selling Green Line extension to their constituents before the opportunity slips away.