New initiatives aid commuter students

The City Council approved a new light rail branch and bus route for 2019.

Kate Clark

As transportation options in the metro area continue to grow, University of Minnesota commuter students are reaping the benefits.

The Minneapolis City Council approved a new light rail branch late last month that would connect downtown Minneapolis to its southwestern suburbs by 2019 and extend the recently completed Green Line light rail that runs through the heart of campus.

At the same time, plans are in the works for a rapid-transit bus route scheduled to run between downtown Minneapolis and Burnsville by 2019.

At the University, commuter students say these projects will ease travel to and from campus.

Kosal Seak, co-chair of the University’s Commuter Connection group, said many commuter students rely on public transportation, adding that he uses it more regularly than his own car.

“I’m so happy the light rail is open,” he said. “It opens up a bigger time frame. If you want to stay [on campus] later, you have the possibility of doing that. However, [the commute] is still pretty difficult.”

French and sociology of law sophomore Renee Rippberger said her average commute to campus takes about an hour.

Unlike when she lived in a residence hall, Rippberger said, she finds commuting tiring and isolating.

“I usually end up on campus for most of the day. I have to carry everything with me,” she said. “My backpack feels like 5 billion pounds.”

Rippberger, who lives just outside of Burnsville, said she would take advantage of the Orange Line rapid-transit bus route if it is created.

“I would be on that thing every day,” she said.

The Southwest light rail project may also give commuter students more options in the future.

In August, Minneapolis became the last city along the proposed route to approve the nearly $1.65 billion, 16-mile Green Line extension that will run from Target Field to Eden Prairie.

The Metropolitan Council projects that the Southwest light rail will have about 34,000 weekday boarders by 2030.

But before construction on the Southwest light rail can begin, federal authorities must give the green light to the project’s next steps and agree to cover 50 percent of its capital costs, said Laura Baenen, communications manager for the Southwest light rail project.

Transportation officials must also plan out the logistical details of the route, she said, like the stations’ designs and how to efficiently route pedestrians and traffic around the station.

“Every last detail has to be drawn out ahead of time,” she said. “You have to know where every little curb and gutter might be.”