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Continued: With Green Line ready to roll, stakes and hopes are high

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 17, 2014 - 10:00 PM

Public safety officials are checking off a list of their own.

Capt. Jim Franklin and the Metro Transit police are engaged in driver and pedestrian education before business groups and schools. It’s sure to be an ongoing effort; on Friday, a motorist in St. Paul making a U-turn crashed into a Green Line test train. It was the third crash since training runs began earlier this year.

Twenty-two transit police have been added to the force to ensure the line is secure. Officers also will patrol designated beats along the route by foot, train, buses, bicycles and squad cars.

Each of the line’s 18 train platforms also will have digital cameras monitored 24 hours a day at the system’s Rail Control Center. Digital cameras will be in place on each rail car.

Most of the major construction work linking the downtowns is complete, but there have been some nagging issues.

A recent inspection of the road alongside the rail tracks found cracks in new concrete at several intersections — including Vandalia Street, Snelling Avenue and Lexington Parkway. That forced crews to again put up the orange construction barrels and detour signs that dominated University Avenue for several years as the line was built.

Walsh Construction is paying for the repairs, but the work has again slowed automobile traffic along University Avenue and inconvenienced local businesses, many of which suffered during the months of construction.

“We lost 50 percent of our business when they were building this thing,” said Ron Boettcher, who has been slinging the roast beef hash at Bonnie’s Cafe near Vandalia for a decade. “It had started coming back. Then they did this thing [crack repairs].”

The Vandalia repairs were completed last week and several other intersections were finished by Friday, the Metropolitan Council said. But snarls remain. Street resurfacing between Emerald and Rice streets only recently began and will take several weeks to complete.

Test trains, new signals

Even as construction continues, test trains are rumbling along the line from downtown St. Paul to Minneapolis and back. One hundred twenty train operators are being schooled, new signals are being synchronized with traffic lights, and a new Lowertown maintenance facility hums with life.

In all, 200 people have been hired for the Green Line, which follows a more urban route than the Blue. Downtown St. Paul also has some short blocks and tight curves, making it trickier to navigate than the Blue Line. Trains also will be no longer than three cars long, “because they would block an intersection,” said Mark W. Fuhrmann, the Met Council’s program director for New Starts Rail Projects.

That said, each three-car train can hold up to 550 passengers — significantly more than the 85 commuters who can squeeze into a bus on the soon-to-be-discontinued Route 50 that also follows University Avenue.

At the same time the trains are making final test runs, Metro Transit is changing bus service to give commuters easier access to the Green Line. For example, the 63 bus that runs mostly along Grand Avenue used to make its last stop at Summit Avenue and Finn Street. Now, that bus will head north on Cretin, pass Summit and eventually link with the Green Line. A total of 24 bus routes will be affected.

To merchants along University Avenue, the promise of more customers — and more business — is welcome.

For more months than he cares to count, Minh Nguyen watched as his customers were forced to navigate a makeshift dirt road to reach Trieu Chau, his 13-table Vietnamese restaurant at University and Mackubin. Still, he said, his business wasn’t hurt as much as some. He has a small parking lot behind his place and a healthy list of regulars.

With the opening of the Green Line just weeks away, he admits to excitement as he tries to catch the eye of riders rolling past his restaurant for the first time.

“We all want to put our best foot forward,” he said. “June 14th is a really big day.”

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