Employees and employers train their sights on Southwest LRT for better access

Date: Thursday, May 5, 2016

A reverse commuter from northeast Minneapolis who works at one of the largest employers in Minnesota, the CEO of a family-owned company, a senior housing official and a pizza restaurant manager have one thing in common.

They all want the proposed Southwest LRT (METRO Green Line Extension) to be built to improve access to the 175,000 jobs already located along the corridor. Another 64,000 new jobs are expected to be added by 2035 within one-half mile of the planned new stations and five existing stations in downtown Minneapolis.

Reverse commuting

Transit Connects People:  New rapid transit lies will put 500k more people within a 30-minute commute from work.  Nearly 15,000 construction jobs will be created through transitway investment.  TIME TO INVEST IN TRANSIT.Peter Janelle reverse commutes from his home in Northeast Minneapolis to his job as a senior financial consultant for UnitedHealthcare in Minnetonka. His family only owns one car, so he rides a bus most days; Janelle says he would appreciate the greater frequency of LRT trains over buses, especially when he has to arrive at work early before his company’s intercampus shuttle is operating.

“Southwest Light rail would make my commute a bit shorter and more direct,” said Janelle, who takes buses three days a week to Shady Oak Road and Highway 62 and drives two days a week using Car2Go. “It’s more of a challenge in the winter months to try to piece together the commute. If the express bus doesn’t work out, I take the city bus route 12. If I work late, I have to walk three-quarters of a mile which is OK for me but for people who are older it would be a bit tougher.”

UnitedHealthcare’s location in Opus Business Park is among several job-rich centers on the SWLRT line. The others are Eden Prairie Center (mall), Golden Triangle Business Park and Optum Corporate Headquarters in Eden Prairie; Downtown Hopkins; Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital near the future Louisiana Avenue Station in St. Louis Park; and Royalston Station Area in Minneapolis.

SWLRT would give Janelle and other commuters access not just to those centers, but to locations all along the existing Blue and Green lines, including downtown Minneapolis, University of Minnesota, downtown St. Paul, the Veterans Administration Medical Center, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America.

Broadening the pool of prospective employees

Nordic Ware CEO David Dalquist realizes that an expanding transit network will increase the area from which employers can draw workers in the future.

Dalquist said about 50 of his workers, which number from 350 to 400 depending on the season, would benefit from building out the network.

“Southwest LRT “will provide us greater access to the geographically spread-out Twin Cities workforce which, in turn, will make us more competitive in the job market. There's no question that there's upside to having a public transit system situated adjacent to a business,” said Dalquist, whose St. Louis Park-based company’s cookware line includes the Bundt pan.

“Though we currently have ample on-site parking, if some employees were commuting each day via LRT, it would reduce our need for parking spaces,” he added.

A draw for people of all ages

TowerLight Senior Living and Child Day Care is near the future Wooddale Station in St. Louis Park, and it promotes that proximity on its website’s homepage: “Located near future light rail stop. Don’t feel like staying in? Board light rail and explore other parts of town.”

Greg Zoidis, TowerLight’s manager partner, says they are interested in seeing SWLRT approved for funding.

“Providing quality care begins with hiring and retaining the best possible staff. Not all of our 50-plus employees currently have dependable private transportation, which creates stress for them and our leadership team. A fully functioning LRT will expand our labor pool and reduce stress among our caregivers, which translates directly to better care for our seniors and children,” Zoidis said.

“In addition, we have many senior residents who no longer drive. The ability to offer activities accessible by LRT will create excitement and energy for both our day-care children and their grand friends,” he said.

At Pizza Luce in Hopkins, a popular stop by the future Blake Road Station, general manager Bucky Jaszewski is looking forward to the arrival of SWLRT.

The restaurant and bar has about 105 employees of all ages, and many of them use their bikes and the adjacent Cedar Lake Regional Trail to get to work. In the winter, though, Jaszewski says that doesn’t work out so well.

“To have the light rail come here is going to be a big bonus for us,” he said.

Customers will use the line too, he said, as the restaurant is already a popular lunch and after-work stop.

Jaszewski lives a block from the restaurant and says the looming arrival of LRT has been a draw.

“It’s kind of a big thing moving out to this area, knowing LRT is coming,” he said, adding that easy connections to downtown Minneapolis are attractive.

The business case

The TwinWest Chamber of Commerce has long supported SWLRT, which will serve three of Minnesota’s 17 Fortune 500 companies: C.H. Robinson, SuperValu and UnitedHealth Group. Six other Fortune 500 companies are on the existing LRT lines in downtown Minneapolis (Ameriprise Financial, Target, Thrivent Financial, US Bancorp and Xcel Energy) and downtown St. Paul (Ecolab). *Target’s Northern Campus is located on the planned Blue Line LRT Extension, Maplewood-based 3M is on the proposed Gold Line Bus Rapid Transit line and Richfield-based Best Buy is on the proposed Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit line. (*Target has locations on two transitways but is counted only once on the list of Minnesota’s Fortune 500 companies.)

“Part of the health of our metro area is investment in transportation infrastructure,” TwinWest Chamber President Brad Meier said.  “The TwinWest Chamber understands that growth of business, jobs and people in the area requires a transportation system for the future that improves roads, bridges and transit.

“We believe it will grow the economic base of the area, and we know it will grow jobs in the west metro.”

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