Light rail safety, location changes continue

Funding for the line restructuring to the Mall of America will come from the federal government.

Britt Johnsen

Although the Hiawatha Light Rail project is still scheduled to open April 3, officials continue to make safety and location changes.

Jennifer Lovaasen, outreach coordinator for the light rail project, said the group will use its first funding installment from the federal government to restructure the line that goes to the Mall of America. That line opens in December.

The U.S. Senate passed a spending bill Thursday that gives the project its first funding installment of $74.9 million. The federal government has dedicated $334.3 million to the project and will give the final installment next year.

The entire project will cost $715.3 million, funded by the state, the Metropolitan Airports Commission, Hennepin County and other groups.

With the new plan, light rail patrons at the mall will not have to travel 200 feet across the skyway and walk to the transit station. Rather, the route will go directly to the transit station on the Bloomingdale’s side of the mall.

Previously, the line would have taken light rail travelers across 24th Street near the mall.

Minneapolis City Council member Paul Zerby, who represents neighborhoods around the University, said continuing to update service is important because the line’s success will determine the long-term prospects for the entire system.

“We’re hoping this will be successful,” he said.

Twelve of the 17 corridors, which will run from Minneapolis’ warehouse district to Fort Snelling, will open in April. The remaining five corridors will open in December and will run south of Fort Snelling to Bloomington and the Mall of America.

Zerby said there are safety concerns about the Cedar-Riverside station. He said there is talk about pedestrian lighting and signage, among other issues.

Mark Garner, Minneapolis city planner, said the city-approved master plan for the project recognizes that improvements are needed. However, there is no funding for them right now.

“We’re in the ‘How do we get that?’ stage right now,” he said.

Garner said there are already standard street lights by the station, but pedestrian visibility will decrease once trees sprout leaves over the sidewalks in the spring and summer.

Proper signs also concern the public, he said. Signs would guide people where to go and label where the station is and where the train travels.

Bob Gibbons, Metro Transit spokesman, said community input is necessary in order to change any aspect of the project.

“We can’t make it safe by ourselves; we have to have citizens help us,” Gibbons said.

Some students said they anticipate beneficial changes.

University senior Jessie Wedel said the change at the Mall of America station will help shoppers because they will not have to walk as far.

Sophomore Jay Plath said he would feel safer in the Cedar-Riverside station area with extra lighting.

“I don’t see how it’d be a bad idea,” he said.

While light rail travel won’t directly affect her, senior Kate Grafing said she found safety and convenience important in the project.

“If (the improvements) make it safer, it’d be a good thing,” she said.