The trip between Apple Valley and the Mall of America on the Cedar Avenue Red Line BRT would be faster and more direct if a new stop for Eagan were built in the center median of Cedar Avenue S., according to the recommendations of an advisory group.
Riders would walk 300 feet to and from Eagan's Cedar Grove park and ride station at 4035 Nicols Road, via an enclosed, climate-controlled pedestrian walkway over the freeway.
The recommendation, scheduled to go to the Dakota County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, outlines an estimated $14.6 million fix for what is now a slow, circuitous stop in Eagan.
By allowing buses to pull on and off the freeway quickly, a center median stop would shave 9 minutes off the round trip during rush hours, bringing it from 52 minutes now to 42.8 minutes.
The Eagan station was located to serve a redevelopment district where an outlet mall is scheduled to open next fall.
Expecting a fast ride on the metro area's first limited-stop bus rapid transit line, Red Line riders have been unhappy to find the buses leaving the freeway at Diffley Road, trundling along local streets to reach the station on Nicols and then backtracking to get back on the freeway.
Although the $112 million BRT line opened last June with the understanding that the Eagan stop would have to be fixed at some point, negative rider reaction has made fixing it a high priority much sooner than anticipated.
If the Dakota County Board approves the plan, engineering and design of the stop and pedestrian bridge would begin right away, said Kristine Elwood, transit engineer for the county.
If other agency approvals and the necessary funding can be lined up, construction could start in 2015, and that means riders might be using it by 2016, Elwood said.
Representatives of Eagan, Apple Valley, Dakota County, Metro Transit, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Met Council made up the advisory group that studied options for fixing the stop. Choices were narrowed to two — getting buses to the Eagan station or getting riders to the median stop.
Building new freeway ramps and bridges to take buses directly to the Eagan station would have cost about $17.6 million and shaved about 4.7 minutes off the Red Line round trip at rush hour.
The median stop — whose price was cut back from an initial $23 million to an estimated cost of $14.6 million and which boasts greater time savings — emerged as the better option.
Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan, a member of the advisory group, endorsed the center median station as the best way to improve performance of the Red Line.
Eagan representatives — after initially wanting buses to come directly to the Cedar Grove Station — ultimately supported the recommendation as well.
After seeing revised cost and benefit figures showing that the median station would cost the least and save riders the most time, Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire said he was persuaded that Eagan would be satisfied with the pedestrian connection. "Having buses leave the corridor compromised the efficiency of a significant public investment," Maguire said.
Eagan's concerns that the walk might discourage ridership were addressed by new information showing that the walk to the Cedar Grove station from the median stop would be 300 feet — just 100 feet more than the distance riders now walk to board the bus at the Apple Valley Station, Maguire said.
Walks to other transit stations in the area, at Fort Snelling and the Mall of America, were also comparable to the walk in the recommended option, Elwood said. Transit planning assumes that people are willing to walk a half-mile to reach a service like the Red Line; it will be a quarter-mile walk from the Cedar median to what will be the front door of the Paragon outlet mall, opening next to the Cedar Grove Station in the fall, Elwood said.
A center median stop on Cedar would work like the one in the median of Interstate 35W at 46th Street in south Minneapolis, Elwood said. Buses would pull off the freeway to pick up or unload passengers. Riders would come down to and up from that boarding area via stairs and an elevator.