Parking ramp at Anoka’s Northstar Station complete

The Anoka Station parking ramp and pedestrian overpass is now open to Northstar Commuter Rail users.

The 344-stall parking ramp and pedestrian overpass at Anoka’s Northstar Commuter Rail station opened Wednesday, June 25. The ramp has been over a decade in the making. Photos by Mandy Moran Froemming

The 344-stall parking ramp and pedestrian overpass at Anoka’s Northstar Commuter Rail station opened Wednesday, June 25. The ramp has been over a decade in the making. Photos by Mandy Moran Froemming

Local and state transportation officials kicked off the opening Wednesday, June 25.

This ramp has been a long time coming.

Anoka received a nearly $6 million federal grant back in 2005 – before Northstar was even up and running.

As the economy fell into recession, the city put the ramp on the back burner, unable to justify the expense. In 2012 the city applied and received an extension on the funding , which was set to expire in March of 2013.

“We as a city, a county and a state had to work very, veryhard for what you see here today – a modern parking ramp logically connected to a transit hub,” said Councilmember Carl Anderson.

With the encouragement of Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look, the city once again started looking at its ramp options in 2012.

Mayor Phil Rice remembered that 10 years ago, as he considered running for city council, he heard the late John Weaver and former Councilmember Paul Pierce both supporting the idea of a parking ramp at the Northstar station.

Rice indicated the two council members were known to disagree.

“These two guys wouldn’t have been siding together if this wasn’t an important project,” Rice said.

The number of parking spots was reduced to 344 from the original plan of 450, reducing the cost of construction for the $10.4 million ramp.

The state-funded Counties Transportation Improvement Board also pledged $2 million along with $575,000 from the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority and $1.98 million from the city of Anoka. Anoka kicked in an extra $1 million for upgraded exterior of the ramp to make it fit in with the city’s historic look.

The ramp is in the heart of Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte’s district.

Local officials cut the ribbon to officially open the parking ramp.

Local officials cut the ribbon to officially open the parking ramp.

Schulte said while he came in at the tail end of the project, he had been following it from the beginning.

“To me as a citizen of Anoka County the most important part of this is safety it brings to our residents who use the commuter rail,” he said.

Northstar parking facilities in Ramsey and Coon Rapids both feature a pedestrian overpass, which greatly improves safety from an at-grade crossing.

It was common to see pedestrians going around safety crossing arms to get to parking on the opposite sides of the tracks.

The ramp, scheduled to be finished in December, was six months behind schedule. The contractor did incur financial damages for the delay in the project.

CTIB Chairman Peter McLaughlin noted that Rep. Jim Abeler, who attended Wednesday’s opening, was one of six House Republicans who voted to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a gas tax in 2008.

“That’s the only reason CTIB is here,” said McLauglin, who is a Hennepin County Commissioner.

Former Republican legislator Kathy Tingelstad, of Andover, was also one of the six who chose to support the additional tax that in turn boosted transportation improvement funding.

McLaughlin said the Anoka ramp is about really looking into the future.

“We’ve had a great year for transit investment,” McLaughlin said, listing off a number of recent facility openings, including the Green Line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul via light rail.

In addition to improving safety and convenience for Northstar riders, by stacking parking in a ramp, it also opens up more land for development around the station, a longtime goal of the city.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at editor.anokaunion@ecm-inc.com

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