RAMSEY, Minn. - Construction workers were busy on Friday putting the finishing touches on the new Ramsey station on the Northstar Commuter line.
The "heavy" rail line runs 40 miles between Big Lake and Target Field in Minneapolis.
The Ramsey station has come under some controversy reflected in a Star Tribune article on Friday that noted that the new station will cost $130,000 per new rider. That figure is disputed by some transit officials because it is based on dividing a projected 100 new round-trip commuters into the projected $13.2 million cost of construction.
However, Jill Brown, of the Northstar Corridor Communications, said the actual cost of the station is under budget, even including a newly added platform heating system.
Brown believes the actual cost is no more than $11.5-$12 million. Also, some local officials believe the new station may attract more than 100 round trips. Others fear the Ramsey stop will drain some riders from the nearby Anoka and Coon Rapids stations.
The new Ramsey Station begins service on Wednesday, Nov. 14, with 12 trips each weekday during rush hours. There are six trips on weekend days and extra trips for special events. The schedules and fares are available online.
The original plan for the Northstar Line was to have the service extend 80 miles between Minneapolis and St. Cloud. However, federal funding only made it possible for the line to reach 40 miles to Big Lake. Northstar officials have been working toward extending the line to its original destination.
"Long run, it is pretty important," said Leigh Lenzmeier, Chair of the Northstar Corridor Development Authority. "Right now, what is beginning to happen is St. Cloud State is beginning to appreciate the potential that Northstar has, not only for their students, but also for their staff and faculty."
Lenzmeier said there is a "remarkable amount" of ridership coming from the campus community. He was referring to commuters who use either park and rides at existing stations or the "Link" buses that connect St. Cloud to Big Lake Station. On Friday's the "Link" buses travel all 80 miles of the original Northstar route.
"This is a great opportunity because this is how I get home every time I come back from college," said Vincent Clark, Twin Cities college student and St. Cloud native, inside the Link bus on Friday. "It is affordable, for sure. I would love to see the (Northstar rail) line extended."
Presently, "Link" commuters pay separate fares for the bus and the rail lines. Transit Officials are studying having one fare that includes both. Before Minnesota transit officials can apply for federal funding to extend the line to St. Cloud, they need to demonstrate a need by doubling the number of commuters using the present Northstar line.
"There are no homeruns involved in this," said Lenzmeier.
He noted marketing efforts at the St. Cloud State University campus and special events like the free fares that will be offered some days next week to celebrate the Northstar line's third anniversary.
The homerun reference is significant since Metro Transit officials say ridership on the Northstar dropped in the last year mainly because fewer people used the Northstar (and the buses and Hiawatha line) to reach Twins games at Target Field.
The officials say ridership increased by 7 percent in August when fares on the Northstar line were cut by $1.
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