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Community celebrates completion of Hiawatha Light Rail Line
Rail line now runs from downtown Minneapolis to airport, Mall of America

See accompanying photo essay

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, December 15, 2004

By Steve Share, Labor Review editor

BLOOMINGTON — Light rail enthusiasts who came to join December 4 festivities celebrating the completion of the Hiawatha light rail line (LRT) witnessed a bipartisan love-fest. On a stage inside a heated tent at the Bloomington Central Station, decades of battles fought pro and con were forgotten. Republicans and Democrats alike praised each other and celebrated completion of the 12 mile, 17 station line linking downtown Minneapolis, the airport and the Mall of America. With LRT ridership double projections, a new era of bipartisan support for transit may be here.

“This is a nice holiday present for the state of Minnesota,” said Carol Molnau, Minnesota’s Republican lieutenant governor (and Commissioner of Transportation) — long a foe of transit. “The project is delivered on time, on budget and ahead of schedule.”

“This project proves in Minnesota we do things right,” said U.S. Senator Norm Coleman, also a Republican. He added: “We wouldn’t be here today without the outstanding leadership of Congressman Martin Sabo.” For his part, Coleman said he would be working to support a light rail line linking downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul and also the Northstar commuter rail line from Minneapolis to St. Cloud.

“I voted for the first time on the Hiawatha corridor… in 1963 in the state legislature,” said Democrat Sabo. “We have to build on this success and go on and build the Northstar corridor.”

The Hiawatha LRT is operated by Metro Transit for the Metropolitan Council, an agency headed by Peter Bell, an appointee of Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty. The emcee December 4, Bell introduced Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, a Democrat, who Bell said was “perhaps the person who is singularly most important for us being here today.”

John Wheeler, vice president of the Mall of America, also praised McLaughlin. “There were times it seemed his energy, his enthusiasm, was the only thing that kept this project going.”

“We can now get on with building the next line and the next line and the next line,” McLaughlin said.

Precisely on time, two trains arrived from opposite directions at the Bloomington Central Station, where McGough Construction, a union contractor, is planning to build a 43-acre development project.

VIPs boarded the first trains, including Jerry Ewald, financial secretary-treasurer for Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 1005, whose members operate and maintain the Hiawatha LRT trains. “This is going to be a huge success,” he said.

“Years ago guys like John Derus (former Hennepin County Commis-sioner) and myself were pushing for this at the legislature,” said rider Arnie Entzel, retired ATU 1005 president. “It’s good to see the end result.”

“You’re seeing a growing regional consensus” for rail transit, said another train rider, Paul Ostrow, president of the Minneapolis city council and vice chair of the Northstar Corridor Development Authority. “The success of the Hiawatha LRT [is winning] over all but the most extreme cynics.”

“The public will is in favor of more lines,” added Tersa Wernecke, executive director of the Downtown Minneapolis Transportation Management Organization. “The political will is what’s lacking.”

The $715.3 million Hiawatha line was built 100 percent by union labor. “We are so proud of the work organized labor has done on this line, over two million hours of construction labor,” said Jennifer Lovaasen, communication manager for the Hiawatha Project Office, talking with the Labor Review at the LRT’s airport station. “The workers on this project worked day and night for four years.”

“We are at a beginning, not a conclusion,” Sabo said.

“It won’t happen by accident or pretty words,” McLaughlin said. “We can do it. Let’s keep this momentum going.”



For more information:

Metro Transit website features Hiawtha LRT information, schedules,
park-and-ride lots:
www.metrotransit.org.

Transit for Livable Communities website:
www.tlcminnesota.org

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