Dirt was flying on a windy spring day when local officials ceremonially broke ground on the construction of the Anoka Rail Station Parking Ramp.
The new ramp will have room for 344 vehicles on the south side of the Northstar Commuter Rail station. The three-story building will also include a pedestrian overpass to the north side of the tracks.
“We’ve been following this project since 2005 – we’ve been at it a long time,” said Councilmember Carl Anderson.
The city was first awarded a $5.85 million federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grant eight years ago. But Anoka didn’t have the matching money it would take to build the ramp that at one time was estimated to cost $12 million.
But now, the city is optimistic about what the ramp will mean to Anoka.
“We think it is going to be the start of some other development up this way,” said Anderson.
Anoka has a long-term plan for commercial, retail and residential development around the Northstar Rail Station.
Building the ramp on the south side of the station frees up the land north of the tracks, currently being used as a surface lot, for new development.
Last month the city of Anoka awarded an $8.6 million contract to Sheehy Construction Company to build the ramp.
The overall budget is $10.4 million. In addition to the CMAQ grant, Anoka will pay for about 20 percent of the project, or $1.9 million. The funding for the city’s share will come from TIF revenues from the district created around the rail station.
Also contributing are the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority with $575,000. A Counties Transportation Improvement Board (CTIB) grant of $2 million has also been secured.
Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) pointed out the big opportunity Anoka has.
“It isn’t that often that a city like Anoka gets to reinvent itself,” Abeler said. “How exciting.”
Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look said there were four key pieces to this particular project.
Look was instrumental in bringing in additional funding for the project from the county’s rail authority and CTIB.
He said the ramp will free up room for development and create local construction jobs. Look also pointed out this is a cash project with no borrowing required .
“But the most important thing is public safety,” Look said, referring to the ramp’s pedestrian overpass.
“There have been instances of pedestrians skirting those (crossing) arms,” he said.
There are two rail lines running through Anoka. So while a Northstar train might be stopped at the station, it could be camouflaging a freight train coming down the other track at 60 mph.
Look’s point was easily illustrated when during the ground breaking ceremony a runner went around the safety arms while a Northstar train was parked at the Anoka Station, dropping off commuters just before 4:30 p.m.
A temporary parking lot is currently being built to the north and will handle overflow parking from the paved north lot until the ramp is completed in December.
Construction on the ramp is expected to begin May 13.
The Anoka ramp is part of a new and improved transportation system in the Twin Cities, said Peter McLaughlin, chairperson of CTIB and a Hennepin County Commissioner.
“This is great for this area but it is also part of a bigger system that is being built,” McLaughlin said. “We’re building a 21st century transportation system. It’s going to be safer and move people better.”
The ramp will be owned by the city of Anoka, but operated and maintained by the Metropolitan Council, via Metro Transit.
Mandy Moran Froemming is at email@example.com