Reporting Bill Hudson
RAMSEY, Minn. (WCCO) — More than 115 Twin Cities commuters have been parking their cars and hopping a bus from Ramsey to Minneapolis and back for the past three years.
Starting Nov. 14, they’ll be riding the rails daily, as the long awaited Northstar commuter rail begins service.
“And it’s convenient, so definitely more people in Ramsey and Anoka will hopefully consider it,” says Ramsey resident Nuchia Xiong.
But for ridership to grow they’ll need to convince more folks like Xiong to park the car and ride the train. That’s the hope behind the rail line’s newest station being opened in Ramsey’s COR development.
It’s the first “planned transit development” along Northstar’s 40-mile route between downtown Minneapolis and Big Lake.
“We’re not building it for one day and shutting it down,” said Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look, “we’re building it for the next 50 to 100 years.”
As chairman of Anoka County’s Regional Railroad Authority, commissioner Look defends the station’s cost. It was originally budgeted for $13 million to construct, but came in under budget at around $11 million.
He firmly believes the new stop will feed new riders into the system, eventually boosting daily ridership by upwards of 25 percent.
A big reason behind the optimism is the station’s surrounding commerce. Ramsey’s COR development includes a giant 800-stall covered parking ramp, 350 stalls of which are dedicated to rail commuters. There is also a 230-unit apartment complex now under construction and planned to open in the spring of 2013.
“If we can increase riders, we lower operating costs and that should be a goal all of us have along the line,” Look said. “It’s a goal we certainly have here in Anoka County.”
Still, overall ridership isn’t growing as planned. Metro Transit needs ridership to reach 4,500 commuters per day before it can apply for the federal funds to help pay for an expansion of service to St. Cloud.
Northstar proponents hope the Ramsey stop will help reach that goal, by attracting a “Chicago-like” lifestyle that is built along the rails.
“I think it will be a really good way of transportation and saving gas,” Nuchia Xiong said.
As a way to inaugurate service from Ramsey and celebrate Friday’s third anniversary of Northstar operations, rides will be free on Nov. 14 and 15.