A new park-and-ride facility in the city of Carver has opened up commuting options for area residents and sparked interest in developing the vacant land surrounding the transit station.

The new station extends service by SouthWest Transit farther to the west with more than 20 buses traveling to downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota.

Bus service began Jan. 5 with ridership running up to about 50 people a day, according to CEO Len Simich.

"Some of those riders may have been using the East Creek station in Chaska, but the hope is that there are folks who had been commuting by car who now are using mass transit," said Carver City Administrator Brent Mareck. Nearly all the respondents to a 2014 SouthWest Transit ridership survey said they used the bus to go work or school and nearly 80 percent said would drive alone if bus service was not available.

In addition to Carver, Mareck said the bus service should attract riders from western communities like Waconia and Cologne, as well as towns to the south like Jordan and Belle Plaine.

The station building's arched windows, stone benches and wooden overhang give it the look of an old railway station, an intentional nod to Carver's history that goes back to the 1800s. The facility is at the intersection of Jonathan Carver Parkway and Ironwood Drive south of Hwy. 212 and includes a 400-stall parking lot.

Simich said that might seem like a lot of empty spaces but notes that it's important to build in anticipation of demand. In Chaska, a two-level parking ramp for 700 cars recently replaced a surface parking lot for 250 cars. Simich said about 550 cars per day used the new parking structure.

The Carver facility cost about $4.25 million to build and was funded by federal grants, Carver County and the city. The funds also paid to build streets around the station, a signalized intersection and sewer and water infrastructure on the west side of Jonathan Carver Parkway, Mareck said.

Besides providing shelter for bus riders, the new transit station is doing double duty, housing locker-style compartments for a Carver County "express library." Users can pick up materials they have reserved from the compartments they access by punching in a code. Mareck said the new transit station is open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The Metropolitan Council recently approved a $1.19 million grant to the city to help mixed-use development near the station. The grant also funds a pedestrian underpass that will connect the park-and-ride and station to downtown Carver.

The City Council is expected this week to consider final plans for 68 units of workforce rental housing to be built by Ron Clark Construction. The council has approved a concept plan for the project which would be built south of the transit station.

The project satisfies both the need for affordable housing and the desire for multiunit rentals, according to Mayor Mike Webb. He said the city currently has just one small apartment building.

West of the station, Mattamy Homes has developed lots for about 50 single-family homes and has plans to add about 50 more.

Carver's population is slightly more than 4,000 but is projected to increase to about 15,000 by 2040, according to the Met Council.

"When [Hwy.] 212 was expanded it created more opportunities for people to live further out," Simich said. "We know the growth is going to continue."