ST. PAUL, Minn.—When the first light-rail trains set out between Minneapolis and St. Paul, the two cities threw a party 11 miles long. At the ribbon-cutting in downtown St. Paul, politicians proclaimed their hopes that the new Green Line would re-twin the Twin Cities, bridging an old rivalry. At a stop on the University of Minnesota’s campus in Minneapolis, Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders mingled with the crowd, and the university’s Goldy the Gopher mascot posed for photos. And along St. Paul’s University Avenue, at the stations that almost didn’t get built, people of every color joined the party: a Hmong dance troupe in St. Paul’s Little Mekong district and African-immigrant restaurateurs in a tented food-court stop two miles west.
More than 45,000 people rode the Green Line on its first day, June 14, 2014—the first time trains had connected the Twin Cities’ downtowns in more than 60 years. The $957 million project had taken eight years to design and build, but it was 30 years in the making if you counted the time it took to line up political support. The party wasn’t a simple celebration of a civic triumph. It was also a chance for light rail’s supporters to start winning over residents and business owners along the route who had been skeptical, even downright hostile to the trains. It was their chance for the supporters to start making good on promises that light rail would do more good than harm.
That opening day, Isabel Chanslor and her 8-year-old granddaughter, Alycia, stopped at each of the Green Line’s 23 stations. Even after a storm drenched them and sent tents flying, Alycia was determined to collect the commemorative buttons being passed out at each stop. “I was begging her, ‘Can we please stop?’ ” Chanslor recalls. “She’s like, ‘No, we’ve got to go to the beginning.’”