Transit extension could help commuters

In 2021, a new light rail line could offer students from northwest Minneapolis a faster commute to campus.

Liz Anderson

Students who travel from the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis could see a faster commute to campus in the near future.

Amid recent discussions surrounding the expansion of transportation in the state, a newly proposed light rail line could offer University of Minnesota students a faster commute to campus.

The Metropolitan Council received federal approval in August to extend the Blue Line light rail, which runs from Bloomington to downtown Minneapolis, in an effort to develop transportation options and improve job accessibility in the state.

The extension, also known as the Bottineau Light Rail Transit project, will run from Brooklyn Park through north Minneapolis and connect to downtown Target Field station, according to the proposal.

With service set to begin in 2021, current University students won’t see its impact, but some legislators say it could improve how students travel to school.

Zach Miltz, a PSEO student, travels to the University from Albertville every day.

To get to school on time, he said he has to wake up at 5 a.m. to drive to the Maple Grove Transit Station and catch the 7 a.m. bus to downtown.

For students like Miltz, expanding public transit options in the state could be largely beneficial.

At the University, 75 percent of undergraduates live off-campus and have to commute, according to the Office for Student Affairs.

The new light rail line could also increase enrollment at the University, said Yingling Fan, an associate professor studying urban planning and transportation research at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

“The light rail lines tend to have a higher frequency of service throughout the day, so I think certainly it will be very beneficial for people in north Minneapolis,” she said.

The Metropolitan Council had plans for developing the Blue Line extension as far back as the late 1980s, said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who’s a  member of the state House’s Transportation Policy and Finance Committee.

Hausman said the Blue Line extension plan is a topic legislators have been pushing for, and the recent shift from the use of cars to mass transit has prompted more young people to use public transportation.

“We used to think of the car as freedom, but this generation thinks [of] no car as freedom, that transit is freedom,” she said.

Hausman said she supports the new light rail line — and expanding other light rail systems in Minnesota — and she said it could better serve the communities it runs through.

“I just have a strong commitment to … building out more quickly the entire transit system,” she said.