Twin Cities transit agencies are using slower times brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic to tackle a long list of needed maintenance and to accelerate major capital projects.

Besides keeping buses, trains and platforms clean, Metro Transit is remodeling a north suburban transit station. The Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) is bringing a deteriorating bus garage into a "State of Good Repair." SouthWest Transit is finishing a garage expansion and facility improvement.

"We are using the downtime productively," said Len Simich, CEO of SouthWest Transit, which serves Chanhassen, Chaska, Eden Prairie and Carver.

SouthWest started work on the $6 million expansion last fall, but design changes coupled with difficulty in procuring supplies slowed work on the 100,000-square-foot addition. Now, with 70 of its 80 buses idled, the agency has advanced segments of the project and even enlisted drivers and staff members to help. Work on the building on County Road 62 just west of Interstate 494 could be done by June and will have room for all of its buses and administrative offices.

"We will paint the building ourselves," Simich said, noting the move to use in-house labor will save money and keep workers on the job. "Drivers didn't want to be furloughed."

Tasks such as patching potholes and washing ramps to remove winter road salt normally are reserved for weekends. With park-and-ride lots nearly empty every day, crews started washing them Tuesday, Simich said. With its crumbling foundation, the MVTA's Burnsville garage earned the lowest rating of any bus garage in the region, said Richard Crawford, a spokesman for the agency providing transportation for eight communities south of the Minnesota River. Some of the building's block walls have eroded or been damaged by water. The ground is retreating from the foundation. Work to restore the building will begin in the next few weeks, Crawford said.

Metro Transit, the area's largest public transportation provider, is putting a lot of effort into cleaning and sanitizing buses, trains, platforms and card readers, said spokesman Drew Kerr. As many as 40 public facilities employees are trying to catch up on a backlog of vandalized bus shelters and damaged signs and lighting fixtures.

"Like any homeowner with a 'honey-do' list, we have a long list," Kerr said.

The agency also is undertaking capital projects that include remodeling the 15-year-old Brooklyn Center Transit Station with new lighting, renovated public restrooms and a lounge for drivers. Outdoor upgrades will include new concrete and crosswalks, canopies at both ends of the plaza and installation of additional bike racks.

Three weekends of light-rail maintenance and work on the Orange Line, a bus rapid transit project connecting Minneapolis to Burnsville, will continue this summer. Even with revenue down due to a big drop in ridership, capital projects won't be adversely affected. Capital projects come from a budget separate from expenses, Kerr said.

With customer service contacts down, the sudden extra time is also allowing agencies to get caught up on required comprehensive and detailed reports that are due to the Federal Transit Administration's National Transit Database, said Mike Opatz, transit administrator and sole full-time employee for Maple Grove Transit.

"There are many federal transit duties we have to continue regardless of the current state of affairs," he said. "We are hopeful that the reopening of the economy will happen at some point and bus service will ramp up quite quickly. But if I get caught up with everything, there is always additional analysis of service and policies that can be done, and maybe get to some of that filing and other cleaning that there just never seems to be time to get to."

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768