A transit stop on a freeway that was once a crumbling stairway to a lone shelter beside a conga line of buses during rush hour is now one that is encased in a citadel of concrete and glass.
October 21 marked the opening of Metro Transit’s I-35W and Lake Street Station, restoring the surrounding neighborhood’s connections with downtown Minneapolis and the south and southwest suburbs, severed when the original stop closed in 2018. It was built as part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s I-35W reconstruction project completed in September.
The station, which cost $41 million to build, was originally scheduled to open on October 18, but it was postponed after a car crashed into the southeastern part of the station two days before. The station was otherwise quiet and desolate when the first bus pulled into the station for the first time that morning, save for the presence of several of Metro Transit’s top brass.
Donning a safety vest and holding his bike, Ace Oubaha, who develops tools to test hearing aids in Eden Prairie and lives in South Minneapolis, became the first person to board a bus from the new transit station. As much as he likes the station because it is closer to his home, he is worried about what this could mean for people—particularly the un-housed—who use the station.
“[With] a big development like this, Metro Transit Police are usually a lot more present and a lot more militant about how they enforce [rules] and add violence against people, especially like on unhoused folks. So I’m worried that this is going to be a place for police violence, and I really would like to see that not happen,” said Oubaha.
Indeed, Metro Transit pledged in July to increase police presence throughout the system to address safety concerns. They also stand behind their training curriculum and are discussing how to make their policing more inclusive.
On Metro Transit’s Orange Line, which opens December 4, police will ensure passengers pay their fares before they board. The Orange Line will be a freeway rapid bus connecting downtown Minneapolis to Burnsville using I-35W.
The new station is different from the old in many ways. It has heating and elevators and protects passengers from the elements and freeway traffic. “You don’t feel like you can get hit by a car when it comes by,” Joanne Camp of Bloomington said as she looked where the old station used to be. She also appreciates no longer having to climb over snow mounds to board a bus as was sometimes necessary at the old station during the winter.
The rebuilt freeway is also much easier for bus drivers to navigate because they can stay on the left lane to stop at the new station, the 46th Street station, and travel on a newly-constructed bus-only ramp to Downtown. The old freeway required bus drivers to dodge to the far right lane to serve the Lake Street Station before dodging back to the far left lane to get to downtown Minneapolis. It became so problematic that the agency had to reduce service to the old station because it became unsafe to serve.
The station has practically everything except seating. Camp complained that this can be a problem “when you have to wait for a little while.” This was made clear to her when she came to the station about 10 minutes before her bus was to leave one afternoon and needed a place to sit. Metro Transit did not respond to inquiries about seating at press time.
Whether the station is a good investment remains to be seen. Ridership on Metro Transit and Southwest Transit routes serving the station has been historically low, with an average of 86 combined daily boardings in 2017. Metro Transit estimates it will serve just over 300 daily riders when the Orange Line opens on December 4.
Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, which serves Dakota County, will begin serving the station in mid-November, joining Southwest Transit and Metro Transit.
Henry Pan is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.