Transit looks to get going in the south, west metro

It’s an exciting time to be involved in metro-area transit – if you happen to be in the right place.

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A Northstar train waiting to depart the Target Field Station. Planners hope to make the area more of a transit center with the $67.7 million Interchange Hub.

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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The folks who are planning the future of Twin Cities transit are hoping two years from now to be hosting the premier national convention in the field of urban rail transport.

Why 2014? Because that’s the year when this area’s transit system might finally start to feel big-league: when light rail links Minneapolis and St. Paul amid progress on hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of linked installations, from downtown hubs to rapid busways zipping through cornfields.

“There’s a lot happening across the metro at the moment,” said Lindsey Wollschlager  of Richardson, Richter & Associates Inc., staff to the five busiest counties involved. “Exciting time to be working in transit.”

More exciting in some places than in others.

In Hennepin County, officials are hoping to begin work on the Interchange transit hub, which would facilitate transit connections for light-rail, commuter train and bus passengers near Target Field.

Construction must begin this year if the hub is to be finished in time for the arrival of Central Corridor trains in downtown Minneapolis in 2014.

Two Hennepin transit lines also are in the planning stages: the Southwest Corridor light-rail line, which will run 15 miles from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, and the Bottineau Transitway, a 13-mile line from downtown Minneapolis to the northwest suburbs, which policymakers have yet to decide whether to make a busway or light-rail line.

But other places, like Dakota County, are seeing completion dates for their parts of the system pushed back for years from what had been promised.

And Scott County is laboring to gain any sort of foothold in the system that is taking shape.

Michael Leek , transit chief in Shakopee, is only partly joking when he speaks of our new “five-county metro area” — the usual seven minus Scott and Carver, two that chose against imposing a quarter-cent sales tax for transit in 2008 and are finding, per the warnings they heard at the time, that their decision could have immense consequences for a long time to come.

“Regional planning is regional planning — it shouldn’t stop at any county line,” Leek said. “We need to have a conversation about having a transitway here, too.”

Experts agree there’s a color line developing in Twin Cities transit: While lots of places fantasize about future transitways, the serious projects are those that are far enough along to have been assigned a color-coded name as part of the Met Council’s so-called “Metro” system. If you have a color, that means you have a line.

Conversely, if you don’t have a color — a Red Line or a Blue Line or another such hue – you don’t have a line. You’re just standing in line.

So, just which rail and bus lines are likely to happen anytime soon, and which are still lines on a map representing hopes and dreams?

As it happens, the Counties Transit Improvement Board, the five-county entity that dishes out the fortune gathered in from the sales tax, has been pondering the same thing, querying planners of all the main lines as to their latest expectations.

That information, in distilled form, and subject to lots of future unknowns, is conveyed in the map accompanying this story.

Here’s a project-by-project look at the pieces of the picture:
 
INTERCHANGE HUB

Transit advocates in the west metro area consider the $67.7 million multi-plaza and train platform in downtown Minneapolis’ North Loop the bow on their transit package. It will be just north of Target Field, where two light-rail lines, commuter rail, bus routes and a bike trail meet. Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin describes it as the west metro’s counterpart to the Union Depot hub in downtown St. Paul.

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