Monday's groundbreaking ceremony for the Interchange, the multi-modal transportation hub to be built near Target Field, had all the traditional trappings. Politicians donned hard hats and turned dirt with gold shovels. But everything else associated with the Interchange project seems completely contemporary.

The facility itself, which will open in the spring of 2014, will be sleek. Reflecting today's modern mix of transit options, it will connect about 500 trains daily departing or arriving via the Hiawatha and Central Corridor light-rail or the Northstar commuter-rail lines. Even more train trips will be added if state and regional decision makers smartly seize upon the opportunity to build the proposed Southwest light-rail line.

But it isn't just rail: More than 1,900 daily bus trips will connect at the Interchange. And the new facility will be adjacent to the heavily traveled Cedar Lake Trail, which is used by bicyclists and pedestrians.

Once it opens, the Interchange not only will serve commuters going to work, but also those who use transit to get to the adjacent Target Field and Target Center. Already, there is often a messy tangle of Twins fans trying to cross over to Hiawatha or Northstar trains. The Interchange should smooth out this flow, which will be even more important when Central Corridor is added to the transit options in 2014.

There are high hopes that the Interchange will be an entertainment destination in its own right: Two planned portions of the Interchange -- The "Great Lawn," a greenspace "stage," and "The Cascade," an amphitheater for planned and impromptu entertainment -- may become year-round attractions. (Energy from the adjacent Hennepin Energy Recovery Center -- the "garbage burner" -- will be used to melt sidewalk snow.) There will also be space for commuter-oriented retail.

The Interchange project is expected to create more than 300 full-time jobs during its construction. It is budgeted at $79.3 million. Local sources will account for about 52 percent of funding. Federal dollars will provide 26 percent, and the remaining 22 percent will come from the state.

The state support is key, not just for the Interchange, but for Southwest and any other expansion of transit. Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem seemed to acknowledge as much by taking part in this week's groundbreaking. His participation underscores the essential truth about strategically investing in transit infrastructure: It need not be perceived as yet another metro-vs.-outstate divide, or one that falls strictly along partisan lines. Instead, it is imperative to keep the Twin Cities metropolitan area economically competitive with regional, national and global competitors, which is imperative for the entire state's economic well-being.

Previous generations made similar investments in the state's infrastructure, as noted by Brian Lamb, the general manager of Metro Transit. He summed up the opportunity, and indeed, the responsibility, of transit investment when he said, "Virtually every day I come across something I'm thankful [for] that some previous generation had the foresight to actually make the investment [in]. ... I have ultimate confidence that future generations will look at this project and all its enhancements and have that same sense of gratitude ... that this generation had some foresight of its own."


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