The planned upgrade to the Mall of America transit station is short of the funding it needs, and at least one Metropolitan Council member thinks the megamall ought to chip in for improvements that will move its visitors and workers faster.
The $25 million project still needs $11 million in funding, but the project was turned down for a federal grant earlier this year and for $15 million in state bonding in the 2015 legislative session.
Council member Jon Commers said Monday at a Transportation Committee meeting that the Mall of America should have a financial stake in the station, which not only carries shoppers to the tourist attraction but also about 20 percent of the mall’s full-time employees.
“I just want to make the point that there’s clearly a lot value delivered also to the retailers and visitors who are involved in making a connection at the Mall of America,” he said. “I’d like to suggest that perhaps there’s private opportunities for investment here – and responsibility.”
The project would construct a new station to accommodate the Blue Line light rail transit route and create a separate entry into the mall for buses. Buses currently use a security gate with more than 2,000 entries a day, where the lines of delivery vehicles, employees and contractors being screened cause significant delays in transit operations, said Jeff Freeman, project manager at Metro Transit.
The new transit station will offer 17 gates, up from the current four, which will help with improving round-trip times for the Red Line bus rapid transit route from the Mall of America to Apple Valley.
“This will increase the amenities. … We’ll have better access for fare collection, or ticket vending machines, a waiting area with current technology,” Freeman said Monday. “And we’ll have a better interior entry position where we can get customers directly into the mall without having to cross a busway, light rail tracks or ring road.”
Metro Transit project planners have talked with the mall about funding for the project, but providing space on mall property is a major contribution already, Freeman said. Metro Transit paid $250,000 in 1992 to use the easement at the mall.
“We have got about a 120,000-square-foot easement for $250,000 that I think at one time … was actually worth more than $9 million,” Freeman said.
The Mall of America couldn’t make anyone available for comment Thursday.
Schane Rudlang, administrator of the Bloomington Port Authority said he doesn’t expect the mall to help pay for the station – one of the busiest in the state. The city has committed $5 million to the project.
“Private entities don’t fund transit projects, or if they do, they fund very small parts,” he said in Thursday. “But that $5 million comes from mall property taxes. In a roundabout sort of way, the mall is already paying.”
Metro Transit plans to contribute $2 million and has secured $7 million through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program.
Planners requested $2.25 million from the Counties Transit Improvement Board and are looking to state bonding to fill the rest of the gap.
At Monday’s meeting, council member Steve Elkins emphasized the importance of completing the project.
“Right now [the station] is just dark and dank and not really safe and inviting,” he said “And this is the gateway into one of the largest employment concentrations in the metro area, and it really is impacting our operations. It’s impacting safety.”
Meanwhile, planners are looking at a tight deadline. The Met Council transportation committee recommended a nearly $2.27 million contract with Cary, North Carolina-based Kimley-Horn for design and construction support services at the station. The full council will vote on the contract Nov. 18.
Construction is expected to begin in summer 2016 and be completed by the end of 2017, just in time for the 2018 Super Bowl at the new Vikings stadium.
“All the stakeholders agree that we need to get this thing completed before the Super Bowl,” Rudlang said. “We don’t want the station under construction, or in the current state that it’s in.”