Twin Cities Transitways Update

By Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate

Four of the metro region’s most highly anticipated transitways—Cedar Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Bottineau, Gateway, and Southwest LRT—recently have crossed important milestones toward opening for service.

Cedar BRT, scheduled to open next spring, will travel 16 miles through Apple Valley, Eagan, and Bloomington, where it will connect at the Mall of America station to the Hiawatha LRT to downtown Minneapolis.  Cedar BRT will use a dedicated lane on Cedar Avenue and the MnPass lane on I-35W to insure speedy travel. Station-to-station buses are expected to operate at 15- to 30- minute frequencies, seven days a week for 15-18 hours per day. This corridor will also continue to have express bus service from Lakeville to downtown Minneapolis during peak hours. Initial stops will be Cedar Grove Station, 140th St., 147th St., and Apple Valley Transit Station. Lakeville stops will be added at a later time. Parking is available at Cedar Grove and the Apple Valley Transit Station.  More information about Cedar BRT.

Cedar-BRT-imagestrip-WEB

 Left: Cedar BRT Stations Map courtesy MVTA. Right: New Cedar BRT bus.

The Southwest LRT project, connecting downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for public comment this fall. The DEIS process seeks to identify impacts of the different alignments. Public hearings on the DEIS were held in November in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, and Eden Prairie. Written comments can be submitted through 5pm, December 31st. The hearings and written comments will give rail planners helpful feedback as the exact alignment, station locations, and the myriad impacts are worked out. The Federal Transit Administration already has approved this line to move into Preliminary Engineering, which is expected to begin in 2013. The full State share (10 percent of the project cost) has not yet been secured.

The Bottineau Corridor is very close to selecting the Locally Preferred Alternative, which is expected to identify LRT as the mode and D1 as the route. With the exception of Golden Valley, all of the communities along the corridor—including Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, and Brooklyn Park—have passed resolutions of support. It is important to note (as we did in a previous blog) that the transit planning for this corridor and sub-region calls for new transit service in North Minneapolis through some combination of rapid bus and/or streetcar.

The Gateway Corridor Commission, which focuses on service from the St. Croix River to Saint Paul / Minneapolis, recently selected Alternative 3 as the preferred project option, from among 8 studied in the Alternatives Analysis. Alternative 3 is bus rapid transit on Hudson Road (frontage road) and I-94 East. Alternative 5 (LRT along the same corridor) will be also move forward to be studied for comparative purposes in the Draft Environmental Impact phase. BRT in the Gateway Corridor is being planned to include both station-to-station service and express service that bypasses some stations.  The comment period for the most recent plans for the Gateway Corridor will be open until January 3, 2013.

We know there is neighborhood opposition in St. Louis Park to the freight re-routing component of Southwest LRT and objection in Golden Valley to the proposed route for the Bottineau Corridor in the current rail right-of-way along Wirth Park. We also understand that some East Metro voices hold firm to the notion that the Gateway line should be LRT (the current plans do allow for a transition to LRT at some point in the future when greater housing/commercial density supports greater ridership). In all three cases, time remains to ensure appropriate mitigation where necessary and to adjust plans to best accommodate future economic development.

Eyes on the Prize

As neighbors and planners work to define the alignment and stations for these corridors, we want to make sure to keep eyes on the prize—and on the funding.

The development of a transit system in the Twin Cities is essential to long term competitiveness—job creation, access to jobs, and many other benefits. This was reaffirmed recently in the ITASCA Project’s Return on Investment (ROI) Assessment of a regional transit system. A conservative estimate shows the highest ROI—of $3 in benefits for each $1 in investment—with an accelerated build out of the transit system and with growth targeted to transit stations. The assessment calculates six types of direct impacts, on travel time and reliability; vehicle operating costs; shippers and logistics costs; emissions; safety costs; and road pavement conditions.

Affordability and health are also key benefits to building a future with better transit options.

People consistently say they want more transit, especially as gas prices rise. Transportation is the second largest household expense, and takes a larger share in low-income families. Yet, currently, only 25 percent of metro area residents have access to convenient transit (defined as within a quarter-mile of service that runs at least every half-hour).

The economic upside of stimulating new housing and jobs along transit corridors has the additional benefit of preserving open space and making more trips possible on foot or by bicycle. Plus, people who take transit walk more than people who drive alone.

As we’ve noted many times, a broader concern is funding. The funding to build and operate Cedar BRT is assured, but, unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the other three corridors.

We encourage our readers to be strong voices for increased investment in transit and to engage in the details of getting planning right for transitways, stations, and connections by bicycling and walking.

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