Cardenas honored - Tower provides access to light rail line

Rick Cardenas is honoredYears of work ended June 5 when the new stairway-elevator tower connecting the St. Paul skyway to street-level transit at the METRO Green Line’s Central Station opened to the public. The tower, located near the Green Line’s Central Station, provides St. Paul commuters, downtown residents and visitors with a convenient link between the light-rail station and nearby bus waiting areas and businesses, offices and residences connected through the skyway.

“This stairway-elevator tower builds on the excitement that is spreading throughout downtown St. Paul with the Green Line’s opening and reaffirms our commitment to making transit in the Twin Cities open and accessible to all individuals,” said Metropolitan Council Member Rich Kramer. He represents downtown St. Paul.

People with disabilities lobbied for years to get the stairway-elevator tower built. Rick Cardenas, Co-Director of Advocating Change Together (ACT), was a strong advocate of the connection. On June 5 he was given the chance to be the first to enter and use the tower’s elevator. Cardenas lives in downtown St. Paul and will regularly board the Green Line at Central Station to commute to the ACT office at Fairview and University avenues. The tower is called the “Cardenas Connection” in his honor.

“This elevator is going to make a big difference, especially during inclement weather,” Cardenas said. “Persons with mobility problems of any sort will utilize this option, making downtown St. Paul more viable for everyone.”

Many elected officials, disability community activists and downtown business owners and residents gathered for the tower’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. Construction of the tower began in summer 2013. It opened just before the start of Green Line light rail service June 14.

The tower was paid for through an $800,000 federal grant provided to Metro Transit and $969,620 from the light rail project budget. The stairway-elevator tower project had a 15.5 percent Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) goal. PCL, the low bidder among five bidders, passed the DBE review. TKDA designed the structure.

Last year the City of St. Paul and Metropolitan Council approved a maintenance agreement for the tower, which will cost each entity about $75,000 per year. The city and council also have agreements on nearby property redevelopment and bus passenger waiting improvements.

The celebration June 5 was a long time coming for those who had sought a skyway-light rail connection. Advocates were frustrated that the cost of the connection wasn’t originally part of the light rail plans. City and state officials were lobbied to provide funding for the tower.

“The opening of this connection is the beginning of many celebrations that will be happening along the Green Line,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. “The accessibility advocates and Metropolitan Council should be commended for getting this project completed. It will be a valuable asset for all those who connect to the regional transit system in downtown St. Paul.”

St. Paul Ward Two Council Member Dave Thune worked with people with disabilities to get the tower built, and to name it after Cardenas. Thune said he is pleased that the tower is completed. “It was a struggle but it got built,” he said. “It was worth it.” He noted that the tower is near one of the busiest bus stops downtown and will provide needed access at a central point in the skyway system.

The tower does have the drawback that users have to travel outdoors to get to the Central Station, or to the nearby bus stop. It also is in an area that is eyed by city officials for long-term redevelopment. That means the tower could either be replaced as part of a development or incorporated into a new building. (Information from Metro Transit and Access Press staff was used to prepare this article.)