An engine for economic growth, Green Line opens to big crowds

City, county, state and federal funding made the Green Line a reality, and elected officials from all four levels of government helped cut the ribbon at the Green Line's Opening Day celebration outside Union Depot. (UA photo by Mike Weerts)

City, county, state and federal funding made the Green Line a reality, and elected officials from all four levels of government helped cut the ribbon at the Green Line’s Opening Day celebration outside Union Depot. (UA photo by Mike Weerts)

Minnesotans celebrated the opening of Metro Transit’s Green Line with ribbon-cuttings, neighborhood-centric events and more than 107,000 free rides June 14-15. But there was more to celebrate than the long-anticipated arrival of a sleek, new transit option between the Twin Cities’ downtown areas.

Jobs – and plenty of them – were also reason to celebrate.

Construction of the $957 million light-rail line, with 9.8 miles of new track and 18 new stations, created more than 5,500 construction jobs, and payroll expenses for the project exceeded $252 million. Additionally, Metro Transit hired 200 operators and maintenance workers for the Green Line, according to the Metropolitan Council.

The project created work for members of Building Trades unions during an otherwise lean period for the construction industry, as investment capital dried up and development ground to a halt following the financial collapse of 2008.

“It was a blessing that it happened during a time when the construction industry saw unemployment at levels it hasn’t seen since the Great Depression,” Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, said.

But job creation isn’t confined to the Green Line’s rear-view mirror.

Riders looking out the train’s windows are likely to see scaffolding, cranes and other heavy equipment, signs of the private development that has been popping up along the Central Corridor since the Green Line since got the green light five years ago.

The Met Council predicts employment along the line will grow by more than 90,000 jobs over the next 16 years. Already, more than 100 projects have been built, are under construction or are in the planning phase along the Green Line. Together, the developments account for more than $2.5 billion in job-creating private investments.

“The development we’ve seen so far only marks the beginning of new opportunities in the Central Corridor,” Met Council Chair Sue Haigh said. “For decades to come, the Green Line will be a catalyst for employment and economic growth along its 11-mile route.”

In that regard the Green Line is an example of the “ripple effect” that makes transit a particularly effective public investment. Every dollar a community invests in public transportation brings approximately $4 in economic returns, according to the American Public Transit Association.

The nonpartisan organization also found that, in a study conducted between 2006 and 2011, residential property values performed 42 percent better, on average, if they were located near public transportation.

The Green Line also provided training opportunities that helped introduce young workers to careers in the Building Trades.

The Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota, for example, integrated a new, eight-hour course, “Introduction to Light Rail Construction,” into the curriculum at its Lino Lakes-based training center. Todd Pufahl, council president, said the $250,000 investment ensures the union and its contractors are ready to tackle transit investments coming down the pike.

“The Green Line will do great things for commuters and the communities it runs through,” said Pufahl. “We are also anxious and ready to get going on the Southwest Corridor project. Our skilled Construction Craft Laborers are skilled and ready to help improve quality of life and transportation choices for all of us.”

Abby Tomasek wore a cardboard light-rail costume to the ribbon cutting. She and other activists used the event as an opportunity to sign transit-users up for MoveMN, an advocacy group pushing broad investments in the state's transportation infrastructure.

Abby Tomasek wore a cardboard light-rail costume to the ribbon cutting. She and other activists used the event as an opportunity to sign transit-users up for MoveMN, an advocacy group pushing broad investments in the state’s transportation infrastructure.

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