Officials celebrate new construction of Hiawatha LRT line

Maggie Hessel-Mial

More than 100 people wearing hard hats and protective glasses gathered in Minneapolis as Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn., Gov. Jesse Ventura and other light rail transit supporters hammered the first spike of the Hiawatha line into the ground Monday.

“We’re on time and on budget to deliver another choice in transportation for Minnesota,” said Elwyn Tinklenberg, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

After its first year of construction, the project is now approximately 33 percent complete.

Unusually warm autumn temperatures helped to keep construction on track, said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.

“Every day we had above 40 degrees in November helped,” McLaughlin said.

The Hiawatha line will run from downtown Minneapolis to the airport, finally connecting with the Mall of America.

Funding for the Hiawatha line – an estimated $675.4 million – came from a combination of federal, state and local money, said project director Ed Hunter.

Partial service is expected to begin in October 2003 from Nicollet Mall to Fort Snelling, with the remaining destinations added in September 2004.

Project officials hope to add a Metrodome stop to the University’s Campus Circulator routes from which students could access the train.

The Northstar Corridor, which would connect St. Cloud to downtown St. Paul, is expected to supplement the Hiawatha line.

Pending state funding to be discussed in the next legislative session, construction is expected to begin on the Northstar Corridor by 2005, said Paul Ostrow, Minneapolis City councilman and Northstar Corridor Development Authority Board co-chair.

“The commuter rail is an integral part of the 21st century,” Ostrow said. “I suspect and hope the government will give funding for the commuter rail a high priority.”

University students aiming to travel to St. Cloud could ride for approximately $8 each way once the line is completed.

The Hiawatha line, an idea 40 years in the making, almost did not come to fruition due to the difficulty of building a consensus in all areas of the state.

“The big difficulty was getting all the different communities and government agencies together,” said Metropolitan Council Chairman Ted Mondale. “A lot of things came together to make this a reality. You can’t pull something like this off unless there is full cooperation from all sides.”

Maggie Hessel-Mial covers the environment and transportation and welcomes
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