From rails to trails, lots of ways to get to Target Field

If you drive, arrive early and be ready to stay late.

Fans were warned: Get there early. Be prepared to walk to the new stadium. The old ballpark had lots of nearby parking, the new one not so much. It was in an unfamiliar part of town. Traffic would be brutal.

Target Field, 2010? Nope. Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, 1982. It's deja vu all over again, at least in terms of getting to the new Twins ballpark.

But Target Field, which hosts its first regular season game on Monday, offers transit options -- and a few challenges -- that set it apart from its puffy-roofed predecessor. The new ballpark is wedged into a new and crowded district, making it all but invisible on most sides. That's far different from the Metrodome, set in an accessible street-grid system that makes it visible for stadium-goers for blocks. But Target Field is enveloped by four large parking ramps that dwarf what's near the Dome. The Northstar commuter rail line shoots in from the north metro on one side, the Cedar Lake bike trail from the south and west.

Hiawatha light-rail trains pull up alongside Target Field, just as at the Dome. But Interstate Hwy. 394 practically begins and ends at the ballpark's front door, while Interstate Hwy. 94 is only a block away.

To manage ballpark traffic, Minneapolis enlisted MnDOT, Metro Transit, Hennepin County, the Ballpark Authority, the ABC Ramps as well as the Twins.

They concocted a recipe for keeping traffic moving before and after games: Close some streets and redirect others, adjust the time for green lights at 60 intersections, put traffic cops at another 20 street corners and guide fans with 50 electronic signs.

Metro Transit offers three distinct transit experiences -- bus, light-rail and commuter train -- and gains a rare opportunity to get people riding a bus or train who wouldn't ordinarily take them, spokesman Bob Gibbons said.

"We're worried about frustration. We need patience," Gibbons said. "We're going to learn it at the same time as the fans are learning it."

While officials expect congestion under the best conditions, the worst-case scenario is likely an afternoon game letting out just as the weekday rush hour picks up steam, or perhaps a game at the same time as a concert or Timberwolves game at Target Center.

"It's not something we can't take care of," said city traffic engineer Steve Mosing. "You try to adjust things the best you can, but when the hour goes by, you go back to free-flowing conditions again."

Reports based on two exhibition games last weekend were positive. Ramps emptied within half an hour, and the expected traffic jams didn't take long to untangle.

"Everybody was just thrilled," said Lisa Austin, who coordinates the nearby state-owned ABC Ramps for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

Transit determined the site

"We really want to make sure this works for our fans," said Twins communications manager Chris Iles. "It's something new, but from our perspective you don't have to change what you're doing all that much."

Sticking with your Metrodome routine is one of the transit tips that Twins and city officials are pitching to fans. The stadiums are 12 blocks apart, and chances are good that your favorite Dome parking spot might work as well, if not better, this season.

Other suggestions: If you're driving, come early and stay late, especially if you want to park in the ramps next door. And consider taking a bus or train; if you're already downtown, it's only 50 cents a ride.

An informal survey of fans at Saturday's game against St. Louis found that some drove and parked a few blocks away. Others took light rail from the Mall of America and Fort Snelling stations. If you waited for the train anywhere north of those stops, they said, you probably didn't get a seat.

"They were shoehorning them in," said Hugh Gitlin, an Eagan accountant. "I think it's the most convenient way to come from the south. Then you can hang around downtown, have a drink at one of the establishments, and go home."

Officials expect the ballpark's proximity to shops and bistros of the Warehouse District and Hennepin Avenue will help keep congestion manageable. Those draws give fans more nearby reasons to stick around after the game than they had when the Twins played at the Dome.

Target Field itself offers a pub, team store and attractions on its plaza. "You've got a modern ballpark with all the amenities, so the urgency to leave is not the same," said Dan Kenney, executive director of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, which manages the ballpark.

It was transit that determined the ballpark's site, Kenney said. "Remember that the City Council and Hennepin County picked this site because of the ramps built for 394, because of the Cedar Lake Trail, because of the Hiawatha extension to Northstar."

Learning what works

But the compact site, an obvious problem for the ballpark architects, also presented issues for getting fans in and out of the stadium. To create more public space on the downtown side, where most fans would come from, the Twins' administrative offices were tucked in the left-field corner. That move created space for Target Plaza.

There are 10,000 parking spaces within a 15-minute walk to the ballpark. About 7,000 are a long home run away in the state-owned, city-operated ABC Ramps and the city's Hawthorne ramp. Prices last weekend were $13 to $15.

The ramps work great if you plan to get to the game early and stay late, Iles said. But if the babysitter is waiting at home, he said, consider parking a few blocks away to avoid traffic. Or try on-street metered parking, especially in the North Loop area and in the Warehouse District southeast of the ballpark, where parking will costs no more than $2 per hour.

For all 81 home games, Metro Transit will operate a new express bus on I-394 just for Twins fans -- Route 679 -- between the Minnetonka park-and-ride lot, at Hopkins Crossroads, and Ramp A across from Target Field.

Metro Transit has about 20 bus routes that stop near the ballpark. And as many Hiawatha light-rail trains as possible will be sent to Target Field Station before and after games, Gibbons said. Up to a dozen buses will be ready to shuttle LRT riders who can't squeeze into the train.

The Northstar commuter rail line will provide service to two-thirds of the Twins games -- weekend games all season long, and every weeknight game from June through August (along with next week's games against Boston).

"I'm excited and scared about the new ballpark. It's a whole new deal," said Mary Stepnick, a Minneapolis biotech worker with season tickets. "I know the Metrodome like the back of my hand, so I'm like the others here trying to figure [Target Field] out."

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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