About 2.65 million people annually board and depart from Metro Transit’s light-rail trains or buses at the Mall of America Station, the metro area’s busiest transit hub — and for many riders, one of the most blighted.
People who frequent the sublevel station, attached to a mall parking ramp, describe it in terms ranging from utilitarian to unpleasant. Riders complain of the labyrinth-like path to reach it and the grimy facility that awaits.
Now work is expected to begin this spring on a $25 million overhaul of the station, a project proposed years ago by Metro Transit to improve its efficiency and appearance.
Bloomington officials had hoped to have the station redone in time for the Super Bowl but didn’t get the necessary state funding in 2016.
The last remaining funding was locked down during last year’s legislative session. Bloomington is kicking in $5 million. The Triple Five Group, which owns the mall, is not contributing funding.
Metro Transit is now reviewing construction bids, according to spokesman Drew Kerr. The project, which will be the first major renovation of the 25-year-old station since light rail was introduced in 2004, is expected to be finished in the summer of 2019.
“We’ve been trying to fund this for many years,” said Schane Rudlang, administrator for the Bloomington Port Authority.
“Aesthetically, it’s utilitarian and ... it does not function well,” he added. “The project will increase efficiency greatly.”
A Bloomington city document about the project prepared for the Legislature called the station “functionally obsolete.”
“The customer experience is in dire need of an upgrade,” the document says. The city had hoped to finish construction before the Super Bowl, during which the station will be “the first impression of Minneapolis-St. Paul to many visitors.”
The new station will be built at the end of the light-rail platform with a passenger waiting area, police substation and an indoor walkway connected to the mall via an escalator, so pedestrians don’t have to cross the road outside as they do now.
Renderings show large signs around the station and a new entrance to be used solely for buses.
The transit station’s bus stop was moved to the east wall of the parking garage adjoining the station last month in anticipation of the construction “and in response to Super Bowl-related security precautions,” Kerr said in an e-mail message.
Transit riders coming and going Wednesday had less-than-favorable views on the current station.
Carissa Mattice was in town from Austin, Minn., and looking to take the Blue Line downtown to visit Super Bowl attractions. She said she had a tough time finding the station in the first place, so much so that she had to drive around the mall twice.
“It seems that Minnesota tends to run more functional than fashionable,” Mattice said, looking around her as the train pulled up.
Devin Walton, who works at a tea shop inside the mall and takes the train several times a week, called the station “the one part of the mall they haven’t really renovated.”
“It just seems outdated and could use a little love,” he said.