One driver was killed in a fiery crash at the brand-new Lake Street Metro Transit station over the weekend, days before it was set to open following years of construction.
"People were excited to talk about the progress. That excitement has certainly turned to somber grief," said Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla on Sunday after visiting the scorched station that remained cordoned off during an investigation and crash reconstruction.
A media event slated for Monday to commemorate the unveiling of the new station is postponed, Metro Transit said, "out of respect for the life lost in a collision at the station last night, and as the MN State Patrol continues to investigate."
Around 8 p.m. Saturday, the one-vehicle crash happened in the northbound I-35W lane where an unidentified driver of a Toyota Camry took a left exit off the freeway and entered the bus station lane off Lake Street. The driver collided with the station that instantly ignited into flames along with the vehicle.
The State Patrol initially reported two deaths in the crash, but officials confirmed Sunday that the driver was the only occupant of the vehicle who died in the crash. No other injuries were reported. The driver's name has not been released.
Photos and videos in the aftermath of the crash indicate more damage than what Metro Transit believes happened as a result. Padilla said images show a "stunning" amount of flames that suggested the entire building was engulfed, but he said after looking at the station on Sunday that "it certainly seems like the fire was contained."
The Minneapolis Fire Department said in a news release that the bus station sustained "mostly cosmetic damage."
Once Metro Transit can ensure the building is safe, it will open the site for service.
"We've got time to inspect the building and look at when services start, but the thing that we all know for sure is there was a life lost … [that's] weighing heavy on people's mind and hearts," Padilla said.
As to whether the design of the station may have confused the driver, Padilla said he wouldn't speculate on engineering aspects of the station until all the facts of the crash are gathered. He did say that there is a similar station design at 46th Street where buses come off the interstate before merging back with traffic.
The new, two-story Lake Street station is part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation's yearslong, $240 million Crosstown to Downtown project that finished construction last month. MnDOT started construction of the 2.5-mile long stretch of I-35W between 43rd St. and 15th St. in August 2017.
Come December, the new Orange Line — a 17-mile bus rapid transit route connecting Minneapolis, Richfield, Bloomington and Burnsville — will be serviced out of the Lake Street station.
Staff writer Reid Forgrave contributed to this report.
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751