Second phase of light rail line to open

The line will connect Minneapolis, the Mall of America and the airport.

Jason Juno

Starting Saturday, Twin Cities residents can take a light rail train to see Snoopy at the Mall of America or to catch an airplane.

Metro Transit will open the remaining portion of the Hiawatha light rail line and establish a rail connection between downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America.

Four more miles and five more stations will open Saturday, completing the $715.3 million project. The line will total 12 miles.

Free rides will be offered throughout the weekend on light rail and buses. Service to stations south of Fort Snelling will start at 11 a.m. A ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. with numerous speakers, including Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, some of Minnesota’s U.S. House representatives, Hennepin County officials and others, according to a press release.

More events will be held at the Bloomington Central Station in five heated tents, including singing and other entertainment. There will be also be events at the Lindbergh Terminal Station, the Mall of America Station and the Hennepin Avenue Station.

Student use

There are three potential areas for student use of the new portion of the line, Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons wrote in an e-mail.

There is a 600-car park-and- ride lot at the 28th Avenue Station in Bloomington, Minn., Gibbons said. Students could park at this lot, which is three blocks east of the Mall of America. Then, students can use their U-Passes to travel to the Downtown East/Metrodome Station and then catch a bus to campus, he said.

Also, he said 13 bus routes among three transit providers serve the Mall of America. Students could then connect to light rail.

Gibbons said students heading to the airport, whether for the holiday season or anytime, can get to the Lindbergh Terminal and Humphrey Terminal via light rail.

The University does not know how many students used light rail in its first months because the U-Pass is not swiped. It is just shown to the driver, said Jacqueline Brudlos, Parking and Transportation Services marketing director.

“From everything we’ve heard, students are using light rail,” she said.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said the first discussions of light rail came up approximately 20 years ago.

“I’m very enthused. This is something we’ve been struggling through,” McLaughlin said.

He said the goal of a regional light rail system remains. He will be pushing in the 2005 Legislature for the passage of Northstar commuter rail line, which would connect the light rail from Minneapolis to Big Lake, Minn. He will also be pushing for funding of the Central Corridor, which would cut through the University and travel to downtown St. Paul.

Currently, students must transfer onto a bus to get to campus from the Downtown East/Metrodome Station.

He said a perk of light rail is that the service is faster than bus service. Trains run every 7.5 minutes during rush hour and every 10 minutes otherwise, he said.

McLaughlin said students can use park-and-ride lots, available on the southern end of the line, for free and not have to pay University parking costs.

Few students use LRT

Currently, light rail is not a popular means to get to campus. Less than 1 percent of students responding to The Minnesota Daily’s survey said they take light rail to school. However, 29 percent of students said light rail is the transportation improvement they would most like to see on campus.

Thirty-six percent of those who ride Metro Transit buses to school want it as an on-campus improvement. Twenty-one percent of students take Metro Transit buses to school, according to the survey. However, 54 percent of students who drive would rather see parking improved.