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"Nearly fifty years to the day that the last Twin Cities' streetcar
ended its run, Minnesotans again experienced the quiet and
comfortable ride of rail transit. On June 26th trains on the new
Hiawatha light rail line began service from downtown Minneapolis
to Fort Snelling." That's how the Minneapolis-St. Paul-based pro-transit group Transit for Livable Communities (a Light Rail Now!
underwriter) describes the 26 June 2004 launch of the region's
new Hiawatha corridor light rail transit (LRT) line.
On that date, the Metropolitan Council
opened the first 8.0 miles (12.9 km) and 12
stations of the 11.6-mile (18.7-km)
Hiawatha LRT project, between downtown
Minneapolis and Fort Snelling. The
remainder, including a long tunnel under the Minneapolis/St. Paul
international Airport, is expected to be completed later this year.
The total project cost is now $715.3
million – a $39.9 million increase from original plans due to major
expansions and upgrades added to the project. These include
rerouting the line to take passengers directly to the Mall of
America, and the addition of more park-and-ride spaces. Still, even at
$62 million per mile ($38 mn/km), the Hiawatha LRT line is a public
transport bargain, given the mobility
provided, compared with other workable alternatives (such as
"BRT", AGT, or monorail) – especially when one considers that,
in addition to some elevated sections, the line traverses 660 feet
of tunnel under Minnehaha Park and 7,400 feet under the airport.
The opening of the LRT system – the result of decades of valiant
effort by transit advocates (such as George isaacs) and their
political allies – generated enormous excitement and interest, with
over 95,000 people riding the new line on its debut weekend. On
Saturday the 26th, opening day, more than 30 thousand people
lined up to crowd into the new LRT trains. At some stations,
reports Pioneer Press, "people waited in line for two hours to get
on the silver and yellow rail cars that swooshed from the
Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis to Fort Snelling in a little over 20 minutes."
The roaring success of the Hiawatha line continued even with the
start of regular revenue service the following Monday (28 June),
with fares of $1.25 for adults and $1.75 during rush hours. "We're
trying hard not to be giddy" a "normally circumspect" Metro Transit
official told the Pioneer Press reporter, "obviously pleased" not
only over the overhwleming success of the inaugural weekend
ridership (estimated at 96,000), but also over the 93,000 rider-trips carried by Hiawatha trains during their first week of regular
service – nearly 70 percent above expectations. Dozens of bus
routes have been timed to connect with trains at Hiawatha Line
stations, making it easy to get to work, to shopping or wherever
Twin Cities-area travellers need to be.
Metropolitan Council planners were expecting about 9,500 rider-trips a day to be carried on the rail line, but that level is clearly being exceeded. During the line's first week of operations, ridership increased from about 11,800 rider-trips to more than 15,000 per day.
In December, LRT trains are expectedserve an additional five
stations at the airport, in Bloomington and at Mall of America. Until
then, a shuttle bus will meet trains at Fort Snelling for continuing
service to those destinations. Agency planners predict that, after
the line is extended to the Minneapolis-St. Paul international
Airport and the Mall of America in December, ridership will reach
19,300 a day, perhaps by next summer.
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