The nearly three-year-old Red Line, the Twin Cities’ first bus-rapid transit line that links the Mall of America to the southern suburbs, is about to get a much-needed tune-up.
On Thursday, officials will break ground on construction of a new $15 million passenger platform at the Cedar Grove Transit Station in Eagan, a skyway-connected structure that is intended to cut travel time along the Cedar Avenue corridor.
The project involves building the new platform in the center of Cedar Avenue so Red Line buses can stop at the station without leaving the highway. Riders would then walk through a skyway to an existing station on nearby Nicols Road. The new platform is expected to open in the spring of 2017.
Currently, Red Line buses exit the freeway and snake along side streets to get to the Nicols Road station, gobbling up precious travel time for passengers. The new platform is expected to shave 10 minutes off the round-trip commute, which now takes 46 minutes.
The line opened in June 2013 with high hopes of providing efficient, comfortable service between the Bloomington megamall and the Apple Valley Transit Station.
BRT buses are sleeker and resemble light-rail cars, and are generally speedier than traditional buses. The $112 million Red Line travels along 11 miles of bus-only shoulder lanes, and its terminus at the Mall of America links it to the Blue Line LRT, which travels to downtown Minneapolis.
But ridership on the Red Line was about 85 percent of the projected rate in its first year. That was due, in part, to the wonky route at the Cedar Grove stop, near the Twin Cities Premium Outlets.
The Cedar Avenue corridor was chosen because it’s one of the busiest roads in the state — about 90,000 motorists cross the Minnesota River on it every day. The Cedar Grove station is one of five stops on the line, and is considered a key connection point for express and local bus routes in the area.
Ridership in 2015 was 265,140, essentially flat over 2014, according to Metro Transit. As of February, this year’s ridership was 38,632, 3.5 percent above the same period last year.
“This new feature at Cedar Grove will make this important transit connection more reliable and improve options for people living and working in this corridor,” said Metropolitan Council Chairman Adam Duininck, in a statement.
Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire said the current Cedar Grove station was built as a “starting point” for the line, knowing that a better connection would need to be made to the highway later.
The Met Council is betting big on BRT, seen as a more cost-efficient transit option compared with light rail.
The $27 million Snelling Avenue A-line arterial BRT, connecting the 46th Street Blue Line light-rail station to the Rosedale area, is slated to begin service June 11. All told, Metro Transit is planning about a dozen BRT lines by 2030.
The Red Line improvement project is being funded by the Counties Transit Improvement Board ($10.4 million), which generates revenue through a metro-area sales tax; state bonds ($3.3 million), and the Dakota County Regional Rail Authority ($1.3 million).