The seven new buses for the Cedar Avenue busway will arrive this month, and construction of the bus shoulder lanes along Cedar Avenue will be completed before the end of the year.

So when will the metro area's first bus rapid transit line open to riders?

Late spring is the best answer Dakota County has right now. Transportation director Mark Krebsbach has promised to get more specific by Oct. 2.

Last week, Commissioners Will Branning of Apple Valley and Kathleen Gaylord of South St. Paul expressed disappointment that the busway will not open this year, since the buses and lanes will be ready.

It's getting to be quite a burden not to have a definitive answer for people, said Branning, who had pushed for a November opening. "It's tough to keep putting people off. I have a wish to have it done as soon as possible."

So many people are inconvenienced by the construction and want to know when it will be finished, Gaylord said. "To say we don't know doesn't sound right."

Construction of the stations at 140th and 147th Streets -- including equipping them with security cameras, security phones, ticketing machines and connections to control centers -- will determine the opening date, said Patrick Jones, assistant director of facilities engineering at Metro Transit. "It's just not a simple project."

Construction bids from firms competing to build the stations will be opened Sept. 10 before the Metropolitan Council, Jones said. The bids will show the cost of the stations with and without a skyway over Cedar at the 147th Street station.

If Apple Valley finds the price right, it will pick up the cost of the skyway at 147th.

Then on Sept. 12, the Met Council, guided by the Apple Valley decision, will choose the design and award the station contract, Jones said.

Although the 147th Street station will be designed to allow the addition of a skyway later, Apple Valley's view is that to attract riders, the busway must be an attractive, safe and pleasant experience -- and from the beginning if possible, City Administrator Tom Lawell said.

The busway extends from Lakeville to the Mall of America in Bloomington along Cedar Avenue through Apple Valley and Eagan.

Riders are to be able to catch a bus every 15 minutes to go to jobs, stores and restaurants along the busway or ride all the way to the Mall of America station, where they could connect with the Hiawatha light-rail line and other buses for other destinations.