The Burnsville City Council will explore funding options for a long-discussed pedestrian bridge over Hwy. 13 at Nicollet Avenue, connecting the Burnsville Transit Station on the north side of the highway with the Heart of the City business district on the other side.

The six-lane Hwy. 13, carrying about 30,000 vehicles a day at a speed limit of 50 miles per hour, is treacherous to cross and poses a major barrier to walking to the station to catch a bus at the transit station, said Burnsville Public Works Director Steve Albrecht. Only about 60 pedestrian crossings a day are counted at the crosswalk there now.

"Pedestrians are just discouraged from attempting to go across there," Albrecht said. "I think it detracts from the overall use of the transit station from the Heart of the City area."

The bridge likely would not be built until 2019 if the City Council decides to pursue it. Details on funding options will be presented next fall.

At that time, city officials also expect to know more about how bus rapid transit (BRT) service on Interstate Hwy. 35W, planned to begin in 2019 to and from downtown Minneapolis, will operate in Burnsville and whether its riders might benefit from a Hwy. 13 pedestrian bridge.

Both the transit station and the highway are expected to get busier. The addition of westbound lanes to create a better flow of traffic onto I-35W is under study now, Albrecht said. "The roadway is only going to get more difficult to get across."

The goal of a pedestrian bridge would be a safer, more convenient connection between the Heart of the City and the bus service, Albrecht said.

The cost of the bridge is estimated at $1.5 million without a cover and $2 million if it were enclosed for protection from the weather. The maximum federal grant typically available for such a project is $1 million, which means the city would have to come up with $500,000 to $1 million to match and secure a federal grant, Albrecht said.

City Council members were unanimous in wanting to look into funding for the bridge.

Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said she was concerned to see people standing on snow piles on the raised concrete roadway median this winter as they waited to cross the road.

BRT questions

Albrecht said the pedestrian bridge would not be directly linked to developing plans for BRT. The BRT, named the Orange Line on the metro area color-coded transit map, has Burnsville as the southern terminus in the first phase of service scheduled to start in 2017 and Lakeville as the southern terminus in a later phase.

Metro Transit, which is the primary provider of metro area bus service; the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, which operates south suburban service; Burnsville, Dakota County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation are discussing Orange Line service plans now, Albrecht said. How Orange Line service could be accommodated is part of what is being discussed now, Albrecht said.

The Burnsville Transit station is already busy. Its parking ramp is sometimes 80 percent full and it's difficult for buses and cars to get in and out now, Albrecht said. The recent merger of the MVTA and Prior Lake and Shakopee bus services means there might be more bus and car trips into the station, Albrecht said. "MVTA has its plate full. It's difficult for them to say [to Metro Transit], 'Sure, we have space for you to add five bays and bring your buses in.'‚ÄČ"

On the Orange Line, Metro Transit and the opt out suburban service provided by MVTA will be merging, Albrecht said. "Merging the two always presents some challenges."

The challenge is making sure that Orange Line service compliments and expands existing service provided by the MVTA without duplicating existing service, Albrecht said.

"The most important thing to Burnsville and Dakota County is that there is a terminus in Dakota County and that it's in Burnsville," Albrecht said.

Once the service is extended to Lakeville, another possible location for a Burnsville stop on the Orange Line would be Burnsville Center at County Road 42, where the freeway ramps would provide a faster stop.

The Orange Line would provide frequent, all-day service on I-35W, service not provided now at nights and on weekends by the MVTA. Orange Line buses also would be stopping at stations along the route at Bloomington and Richfield whereas MVTA commuter service goes to downtown Minneapolis and back, Albrecht said.

"Burnsville is committed to transit. We think it is a good opportunity but we have to make it work for both MVTA and Metro Transit,'' Albrecht said.