Chanhassen and Chaska are primed for more growth. So are neighboring Carver and Victoria. SouthWest Transit is ready for it.
On Saturday, the agency held an open house to show off its newest transit station on the southwest corner of Hwys. 41 and 212 in Chaska. It begins providing service on Monday from the East Creek Transit Station to downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, Best Buy headquarters in Richfield, Southdale Center in Edina and Normandale Community College in Bloomington.
The East Creek station looks a lot different from the version that closed a year ago. SouthWest has since then built a $7.8 million state-of-the-art facility and a parking deck with room for 675 vehicles.
"No one will be disappointed with this one," CEO Len Simich said of the structure, which has a number of amenities for passengers: an indoor waiting area featuring monitors with real-time bus information, TVs, Wi-Fi, a ticket window to buy bus passes, rest rooms and ample covered parking.
In the coming months, a coffee shop might open on the second floor, and SouthWest is in talks with the Carver County Library about a satellite branch.
Bicyclists will benefit, too. They will be able to park in the lot and connect to the nearby trail system. And they will have access to the facility 24 hours a day.
East Creek opened in 2008 with the expansion of Hwy. 212, but back then it was just a surface with a small shelter.
The original plan was to build a park-and-ride lot at the proposed EdCampus, an educational hub to be built by a private developer with buildings leased to local postsecondary institutions. That project never got off the ground, so SouthWest changed course and built on the East Creek site.
The roomy building and spacious parking lot may seem large now, but the former lot with 250 stalls was already at capacity. Semich expects the new East Creek to fill up fast.
"This area will be the next boom, just like Eden Prairie was in the early 2000s," he said. "This is the end or beginning of the line, and those are the most heavily used stations. Chaska and Chanhassen are primed for growth. There still is lots of available land and room to expand in those communities. This is our next big market."
East Creek is SouthWest's fourth full-service transit station, joining one in Eden Prairie and two in Chanhassen. Semich said SouthWest is not looking to build any more structures, but it does have its eye on expanding into Carver when that city completes a transit station sometime next year.
"We anticipate and hope to be the transit provider for that system," Semich said.
Along with first-class facilities, SouthWest is looking to attract riders by expanding the number of its destinations.
In addition to offering motor coach bus service to downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota, SouthWest this fall added service to Best Buy, Southdale Center, and Normandale Community College.
"This has been on our radar for a long time," Simich said, noting the many students from its service area in Eden Prairie, Chaska and Chanhassen who take classes at Normandale.
"You have to generate rides to be successful. We are going in the right direction."
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