At least $2.5 billion is being invested in new and renovated commercial and housing projects near the Green Line light-rail line, scheduled to begin operating next month, Metropolitan Council Chairwoman Sue Haigh said Wednesday.
That sum takes in 78 projects that are built, planned or in some stage of construction with prices either known or estimated. The value is unknown for another 43 projects, meaning that the $2.5 billion figure likely is a conservative one, she said.
On the other hand, 37 percent of the projects also are on the Blue (Hiawatha) Line where it merges with the Green Line in downtown Minneapolis. Haigh acknowledged that not all the projects counted can be fully credited to the development of the Green Line, also known as the Central Corridor, but noted that most are relatively near the tracks.
“We expect that this is just the beginning of the development,” said Haigh, who spoke outside Episcopal Homes’ $45 million senior housing expansion under construction near University and Fairview Avenues in St. Paul.
The 171-unit addition, which will open in November, is drawing a waitlist of prospective residents excited about living near the Green Line, Episcopal Homes President and CEO Marvin Plakut said.
“A large reason for sustained and increasing demand is light rail,” he said.
The Met Council included on its list the Union Depot renovation, which cost $243 million, but left off other large public projects that likely would have developed regardless of transit connections: Target Field, the new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis and TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota.
In all, 121 projects are within a half-mile of the Green Line. The Met Council also singled out 36 other projects, many of them student housing, more than a half-mile away but still in the vicinity of the light-rail tracks.
Getting signals right
Trains are set to begin running on the Green Line starting June 14, beginning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Union Depot Station in downtown St. Paul. The project, which cost $957 million — half of it supplied by federal funds, with the balance divided among state, regional, county and city governments — includes 18 new stations in addition to five that it will share with the Blue Line.
Metro Transit estimates that the train will take about 40 minutes to get from one downtown to the other, despite a report Wednesday by Minnesota Public Radio that suggested test times were averaging 67 minutes.
“That’s exactly what this testing and training period is for, to get traffic signalization improvements in both cities and also to familiarize our rail operators on the [Green] line,” said John Siqveland, spokesman for Metro Transit.
Traffic signals are being adjusted to give trains the right of way as they approach intersections, which will speed up the trip.
All 120 Metro Transit rail operators, half of them hired to accommodate Green Line operations, are being trained on the new route to find out where to speed up, slow down and stop, Siqveland said.
Haigh said the Green Line is more about station-to-station service than about getting all the way from one downtown to the other. With 63 intersections to cross, the light-rail line can’t be considered a commuter line, she said.
When the Blue Line began operating in 2004, drivers complained about growing traffic lines while waiting for the trains to pass. But about 98 percent of the trains were on time shortly after the new line opened, with some running even slightly ahead of schedule.
Siqveland said that after the Green Line opens, Metro Transit will continue to run an express bus along Interstate 94 on weekdays that takes 15 to 20 minutes to travel between the downtowns. The Route 50 bus will be replaced by the Green Line, but the Route 16 bus will continue to run on University Avenue between the downtowns but on a reduced schedule.
Also Wednesday, Metro Transit said that traffic delays on University Avenue in St. Paul were expected to continue through late May as crews continue to repair damaged concrete panels at several intersections along the Green Line. Cracks were discovered last month in recently poured concrete at 11 intersections.
Crews also began this week patching stretches of University around manhole covers and repaving between Emerald Street and Hamline Avenue.