After 30 years of talks, planning and negotiation, the Southwest Light Rail is officially a go. Passenger service is expected to begin in 2023, with heavy construction scheduled from 2019 to 2022 and system testing from 2022 to 2023.

The transit line will run 14.5 miles, connecting downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie with stops in St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka.

There will be a total of 16 new stations: five in Minneapolis, three in St. Louis Park, three in Hopkins, one in Minnetonka and four in Eden Prairie.

The SWLRT is an extension of the METRO Green Line, which it will connect with at the Target Field station and destinations like the U.S. Bank Stadium, Nicollet Mall, University of Minnesota, State Capitol and downtown St. Paul. At Target Field, there are also connections to the METRO Blue Line and Northstar Commuter Rail Line.

Hours of operation will be the same as the existing transit lines: 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Trips operate every 10 minutes during the day, every 10-15 minutes during the evening and every 30-60 minutes overnight.

It will take approximately 34 minutes to get from one end to the other on the SWLRT.

The total project cost is just more than $2 billion. Federal funds make up nearly half of the total at 46 percent, followed by Hennepin County, with the rest a mix of state and local funders.

On Nov. 14, the Federal Transit Administration cleared the path for construction to begin on the line when it granted the Metropolitan Council a document that OK’d federal reimbursement of early construction work, meaning the council could award a construction contract.

Within 24 hours, the council took a bid of $799,514,338 from Lunda/C.S. McCrossan.

The contract is expected to create 7,500 construction jobs, totaling $350 million in payroll. During construction on the METRO Green Line, workers came from 61 of the state’s 87 counties.

In 2014, there were approximately 64,300 jobs within a half mile of the future stations. By 2035, there could be an expected 80,900 jobs within that range. In that same time frame, the population along the line outside of downtown Minneapolis is expected to grow by 56 percent.

That expected growth has spurred about $1 billion of development along the line thus far.

As the Twin Cities population grows, the SWLRT will provide an alternative transportation option and may alleviate congestion. An LRT train can hold the equivalent of six cars.

“When you think about the future of our region, we’re going to add 700,000 people by 2040. If all those people commuted by vehicle, our existing transportation system wouldn’t be able to accommodate that,” said Trevor Roy, a project spokesman.

Get to know the future SWLRT stations, from east to west:

Minneapolis

1) Royalston Avenue/Farmers Market: The first new station will be within walking distance from the Minneapolis Farmers Market, Target Field and North Loop neighborhood (formerly known as the Warehouse District). A little farther but also nearby are First Avenue, Metropolitan State University and Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

2) Bassett Creek Valley: This station will be within walking distance of Dunwoody College of Technology, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Walker Art Center. A little farther but also nearby is Loring Park.

3) Bryn Mawr: With the Cedar Lake Trail passing right by this station, there will be convenient access to the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and Kenwood Park.

4) West 21st Street: This station is in the heart of the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, near Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.

5) West Lake Street: Located near where St. Louis Park meets bustling uptown, this station is within walking distance of Lake Calhoun, Calhoun Commons shopping center and the Midtown Greenway.

St. Louis Park

6) Beltline Boulevard: Just off Highway 7 and Beltline Boulevard, this station is near Bass Lake Preserve, Carpenter Park, Wolfe Park and St. Louis Park City Hall. A little farther by also nearby is Excelsior & Grand.

7) Wooddale Avenue: Just off Highway 7 and Wooddale Avenue, this station will be in the Elmwood neighborhood and near St. Louis Park High School.

8) Louisiana Avenue: This station is within walking distance of Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital.

Hopkins

9) Blake Road: At Blake Road and Excelsior Boulevard, this station is within walking distance of abundant rental housing and a Blake School campus. A little farther but also nearby are Cargill corporate headquarters.

10) Downtown Hopkins: At Excelsior Boulevard and Eighth Avenue South, recently reconstructed into a one-way with streetside art installments and a bikeway, this station is a short walk to historic Mainstreet.

11) Shady Oak: At Shady Oak Road and Excelsior Boulevard, this station borders Minnetonka near Shady Oak Lake.

Minnetonka

12) Opus: Located within Opus business park, a regional employment center with more than 12,000 jobs in a wide range of industries, this station is just north of Crosstown Highway 62 on Bren Road East.

Eden Prairie

13) City West: Adjacent to UnitedHealth Group’s Optum corporate campus, this station is just south of Highway 62 and west of Highway 212.

14) Golden Triangle: This station is located within the Golden Triangle, a major employment center with more than 20,000 people and more than 10 million square feet of industrial and office space.

15) Town Center: Near Interstate 494 and Highway 212, this station will be within walking distance of Eden Prairie Center and Purgatory Creek Park.

16) SouthWest: This station will combine the light rail with the existing SouthWest Transit bus station on Technology Drive. The park-and-ride facility will expand.

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I am a reporter for the Sun Sailor, covering Minnetonka, Excelsior, Shorewood, Tonka Bay, Deephaven, Greenwood, Woodland and the Hopkins School District.

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