Study proposes light rail stop on campus

Stephanie Kudrle

This year, it is more expensive to park in campus ramps, on-campus traffic congestion is worsening, and it takes some commuters more than an hour to get to class.

After completing a nearly four-year transportation study, the University believes it might have a solution: light rail transit.

The study, which looked at bus and rail transportation, deemed light rail the most feasible, and now the University is looking at ways to fund a transit line through campus.

Jan Morlock, University relations director, said preliminary designs for the line – which would be called the Central Corridor – would connect to the larger

Hiawatha light rail transit line at its Metrodome station, run over the Washington Avenue Bridge, under the East Bank campus and surface on University Avenue Southeast.

Because the Hiawatha line will connect to the airport, the Mall of America, downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, and 11 Minneapolis and suburban neighborhoods at 17 stations, Morlock predicted students would enthusiastically use a transit line through campus.

“I think anything that helps us get out of our cars and off highways would be a good thing,” Morlock said.

Additionally, the light rail line would be run by Metro Transit, so students who purchase a University U-Pass would have unlimited rides each semester.

Josh Collins, a Hiawatha project planner, said trains will run every seven and a half minutes during rush hour and will be a valuable asset for the University.

Still an uncertainty Morlock did not have a cost estimate for the project but said funding would have to come from the government – which makes it uncertain whether the project will become a reality.

Collins said he thinks people will wait to fund other light rail lines until Hiawatha opens.

That line cost $715 million and has been under construction for more than two years. The main line is expected to open in April.

However, Collins said students can benefit from light rail transit immediately, because students will have access to the Cedar-Riverside station, within walking distance of campus.

University sophomore Megan Rowekamp said that because her parents live in Bloomington – an hour and a half bus ride from campus – she will use the Cedar-Riverside station, and would also support an on-campus stop.

“Certainly, hands down, I would use the light rail,” Rowekamp said.

Ann Forsyth, program director for Design Center and American Urban Landscape, said the Cedar-Riverside station will provide service to the University.

“People think it will be far away,” she said. “But I think people will use it.”

She said it takes less than five minutes to get from the station to the Carlson School of Management on the West Bank.

However, she said, the station should have been placed on a main street instead of in a residential area.

“It’s not an unsafe neighborhood,” Forsyth said. “But people will have to walk through neighborhoods to get to the station.”

Despite Forsyth’s concern, University sophomore Julie Hrdlicka said she would still prefer the light rail to buses.

“I feel unsafe at the bus stops at night,” Hrdlicka said. “I think the light rail would be better.”

Hrdlicka said she often uses the buses to go to the airport because her boyfriend goes to school on the East Coast. She said the light rail would also make that commute quicker and easier.

Other students, however, were not as optimistic about the light rail.

Junior Sara Marsh commutes from New Brighton and said the light rail will not help her because no line will reach into the northern suburbs.

“I like having my car with me too,” she said. “It’s a matter of time versus money.”

For students without a U-Pass, the light rail will cost the same as buses – $1.25 regularly and $1.75 during rush hour. It will also honor bus transfers.

Collins estimated 19,000 passengers will ride the light rail every day, which he said was a “modest estimate.”

The Cedar-Riverside station will open with most of the Hiawatha line in April, and the line running to the Mall of America and airport will open next December.

For Rowekamp, timing was the only pertinent issue with light rail.

“It’s about time it opened,” she said.