Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce President Pat MulQueeny unzipped a black case shaped like a ukulele. A few steps in front of him, a breeze played with a polyester ribbon being unrolled for dignitaries to hold. They were lined up in the bright sun on the new bus loop at SouthWest Station.
Wednesday, May 31, marked the ceremonial opening of the station’s passenger waiting room and bus loop. On May 1, SouthWest Transit commuters began boarding buses there to become the first to use any aspect of the massive Metro Green Line Extension Project. Light rail riders will begin sharing the station’s sitting room in 2027.
The event was also staged as kind of a reunion, with hot dogs and pop, for Eden Prairie, Met Council, and SouthWest Transit officials and staff who had invested years in the planning and rebuilding of the transit complex on Technology Drive.
MulQueeny pulled an oversized, ceremonial scissors from the case and handed it to SouthWest Transit Commission Chair Jerry McDonald. McDonald grasped one of the pie-sized finger rings of the scissors while Charlie Zelle, chair of the Metropolitan Council, took the other.
Eden Prairie Mayor Ron Case and former Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens took their places next to the pair, looking out at around 65 onlookers associated with public transit. A sleek black and green bus and a new parking ramp provided the backdrop.
Forty minutes earlier inside the waiting room, master of ceremonies Ric Rosow shared past gossip that Mayor Nancy had called him an honorary citizen of Eden Prairie. The retired attorney served as the legal counsel for the city and SouthWest Transit.
On his way to introducing the chief speakers, he praised the foresight of Chaska, Chanhassen and Eden Prairie for creating SouthWest Transit in 1987 and for teaming with the Met Council in 2018 to make SouthWest Station a multi-modal, regional transit hub. “They realized,” Rosow said, “that transportation drives — no pun intended — the economy.”
Case said that Eden Prairie is looking forward to the first LRT train running in tangent with the bus system. He noted that it would be leaving from this station and surmised about breaking a bottle of champagne on the inaugural train.
The mayor thanked his predecessor, Tyra-Lukens, for her 20 years of work on public transit while on the City Council, 13 of which were as mayor. Tyra-Lukens had served on the SouthWest Transit Board, two Southwest Light Rail advisory committees and moderated public informational hearings at city hall. Case also noted that every dollar invested in public transportation results in four dollars of economic gain for the region.
Note: Mayor Case’s full comments are in the sidebar at the bottom of the article.
In addition to complimenting the station’s total expansion, including the new waiting room, SouthWest Transit Commission Chair Jerry McDonald noted something else. Minnesota lawmakers this past session have funneled more funding for local transit. The Legislature recognizes the future of what he calls “Micro Transit.”
This will enable SW Transit to provide people in Chaska, Chanhassen, and Carver with connectivity to the light rail at the SouthWest Station hub through future micro routes. “We will have a more robust service from the suburbs to the downtown core area and actually beyond,” McDonald said.
Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle, whose agency is building and will operate the 14.5-mile light rail line between Eden Prairie and Minneapolis, said that the economic growth around SouthWest Station is impressive.
Zelle formerly headed the Minnesota Department of Transportation and, for more than 20 years, served as CEO of Jefferson Lines. His family’s bus company serves cities in 14 states, from Minnesota to Louisiana. He’s seen many a waiting room, depot and station. Speaking of the new waiting room and of its gathered transit advocates, planners and executives, Zelle handed them a bouquet of appreciation.
“I have never seen anything quite so wonderful as this room here with all of you,” he said. “You are just remarkable people. Congratulations to the designers and those who put it together.”
Among those who put it together were retired SouthWest Transit CEO Len Simich and Metro Green Line Extension Director Jim Alexander. Alexander, known for commuting by bicycle to the St. Louis Park offices of a $2.74 billion light rail project, was asked by Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) if he had biked to the Eden Prairie ribbon cutting. Alexander smiled, perhaps chuckled, and replied, “Not today. But I could have.”
A few moments later, but before the ribbon-cutting photos were snapped, Pat MulQueeny said that the chamber and the Eden Prairie business community’s No. 1 issue is workforce — they need to get their employees to and from places of work. “Transportation,” he exclaimed, “is their solution.”
Editors note: Nancy Tyra-Lukens, mentioned in this article, serves as Chair of EPLN’s Board of Directors. Writer Jeff Strate is a founding EPLN Board Member and served on the SWLRT Community Advisory Committee.
Mayor Ron Case shared the full text of his May 31 remarks at SouthWest Station, Eden Prairie.
“Welcome to Eden Prairie! Today is such a juxtaposition of all the hard work it took to get here and the realization that we’ll be back here in a few short years, breaking a champagne bottle on the inaugural train leaving this very station.
I want to share just a few words about the seemingly obvious importance of public transportation, obvious at least to us gathered here today, but sadly, perceptions not shared by everyone.
- Public transportation improves community health by increasing levels of physical activity and relieving stress.
- It brings economic benefits to the community – every dollar invested in public transportation can yield up to $4 in economic gains for the region.
- Public transportation improves fuel efficiency for the region by taking gas-powered vehicles off the road and replacing them with electric-powered, efficient trains.
- Public transportation reduces air pollution.
- It improves road congestion.
- Improves community mobility.
- Provides an equitable transportation system.
- Public transportation improves commuters’ productivity as they can work on the train, relax, and/or prepare for the day.
- And finally, every economically vibrant, successful metropolitan region in America today has a vibrant, successful public transportation system.
I also want to take just a moment to share, specifically, some of the Green Line extension’s benefits to Eden Prairie:
- The LRT will connect Eden Prairie to an integrated system of transitways across the region.
- It has already resulted in millions of dollars of investments to our community, and it is projected to bring millions of dollars more into Eden Prairie, primarily around our four stations – the SouthWest Station, the Eden Prairie Town Center Station, the Golden Triangle Station, and the City West Station.
- The LRT will be a very positive amenity for attracting young professionals to our city.
- It will help to address the lack of workers facing our businesses today by serving as a reverse commute.
- Finally, it enhances Eden Prairie’s image as a thoroughly modern, progressive, and vibrant city where the quality of life is high, the taxes are low, and our schools, parks, public safety, and TRANSPORTATION systems are second to none!
We are excitedly looking forward to the first train running, and today’s ribbon cutting is a tremendous step forward toward that day. I hope to be a part of the next monumental ribbon-cutting event when we send the first train out of this station on its way to Minneapolis.
Thank you to all of you gathered here today. There’s no way we would be standing here but for the difficult, tireless work by so many of you. Special call-out to Charlie Zelle, who should have his name memorialized in blood somewhere along the system route, and my predecessor, Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens, who spent her entire 20 years on the Eden Prairie City Council, 13 years as mayor, working diligently toward this day.
On behalf of the City of Eden Prairie, thank you for keeping the faith. We still have a little ways to go, but the light is at the end of the tunnel. Take care.”
Mayor Ron Case, May 31
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