Interchange Project planned to ease transit congestion in Minneapolis


UPDATED 11/1/2011: The last time I took the Light Rail home from a Twins game, two lines of people extended a few blocks long, waiting for over an hour to catch their train. This, said Ed Hunter, project manager of the Interchange Project, is a typical experience for most Hiawatha train riders after a Twins game. Participating in the Hennepin County Citizen’s Classes about local government services, I learned about what has been done, what is currently being done, and what’s in store to expand public transit in the Twin Cities metro area, including the congested area around Target Field.

The Twin Cities’ first light rail line, the Hiawatha Light Rail, opened in 2004. Hunter said that transit planners estimated that by the year 2020, there would be 20,000 riders a day taking Light Rail. They achieved ridership of 20,000 a day in their second year of operation. With the Twins games, they’ve averaged 8,000 riders each game. With the opening of the Northstar Corridor in 2009, transportation was made accessible from Minneapolis to Big Lake (south of St. Cloud). According to Hunter, “Ridership has been outstanding. The reality of day to day operations has presented new challenges in that they’re bringing in way more people than we ever imagined.”

In addition to the current construction of the Central Corridor LRT connecting downtown Minneapolis with St. Paul, the Southwest LRT is in the preliminary engineering stages; it will connect riders from Minneapolis to the Southwest metro area through Eden Prairie. Future lines in the planning phase include the Bottineau Transitway extending North of Minneapolis, the Red Rock Commuter Rail extending Southeast to Hastings, the I-35 Bus Rapid Transit South to Lakeville, and the NLX Intercity Rail (high speed rail to Duluth).

According to transit officials, ridership will double when the Central Corridor LRT is completed in 2014;  so it is urgent that there is a central hub downtown Minneapolis to accommodate all of these additional trains and riders. Coinciding with plans for completion of the Central Corridor LRT is the Interchange Project. The Interchange is a project of the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority. The current Hennepin County Environmental Services Building on 5th St. N. will be torn down, and the Interchange will be built on this space next to Target Field. It will be near the Warehouse District, Hennepin Theatre District, Nicollet Mall, and the Minneapolis Central Library. According to the Hennepin County Interchange website,

“The Interchange is your connection to the regional rail network, buses, and bike trails. Currently more than 250 trains arrive and depart daily via Hiawatha Light Rail Transit and Northstar Commuter Rail. The Interchange also provides connections to more than 1,900 daily bus operations, as well as access to the Cedar Lake Bike Trail. With the completion of the Central Corridor LRT, 500 trains will be arriving daily. The Interchange will unite transit and development creating a civic space connecting multiple transportation options, supporting a vibrant regional economy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing mobility.”

Hennepin County Transit envisions the Interchange will be an elevated 1.5 acre outdoor plaza consisting of 66,000 square feet of dynamic civic space with additional elevated rail platforms, parking, and retail space. Estimated cost of the Interchange is $67 million with the county anticipating that a major federal grant will pay for most of the project.

CORRECTION 11/1/2011: The space is approximately 1.5 acres.