Transit lines are poised to reach into east suburbs

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 2, 2008 - 10:34 PM

The Red Rock corridor into the southeast suburbs looks to be first on the list.

Plans for express bus service between southeast suburbs and the downtowns has moved forward with two studies that will estimate commuter ridership and station locations.

The Red Rock Corridor is envisioned as a key east-metro transit route, someday funneling thousands of commuters from Washington and Dakota counties to jobs in the Twin Cities. A companion plan calls for high-speed rail service between Chicago and the Twin Cities that would cut the trip to less than six hours.

Studies for the Red Rock plan will determine the best use of express buses and help decide locations for park-and-ride lots that eventually could become light-rail stations, said Mike Rogers, Washington County's transportation planner. Some bus service already is available from Cottage Grove into St. Paul, but the studies will help determine how the corridor can be expanded and how buses might extend to Hastings, he said.

Transit planning in the east metro area has picked up speed this year with several new developments.

In January, bus service began from Forest Lake to Minneapolis after the federal government surprised east-metro counties with a $5 million windfall to help ease traffic congestion after the Minneapolis bridge collapse. The service -- with more than 400 passengers daily -- is expected to expire in December unless county governments find another way to fund it.

This summer, a coalition of four counties -- Ramsey, Washington, Anoka and Chisago -- is finding money to start a 23-mile commuter bus line from Forest Lake to downtown St. Paul in January. Estimates call for 400 riders a day on four incoming morning trips and four outbound evenings trips.

In April, all of the metro counties except Scott and Carver voted to enact a quarter-cent sales tax and a $20 excise tax on car sales to help build mass transit. Those taxes went into effect July 1.

The new taxes will collect about $95 million over the next year to pay for bus, light-rail and commuter-rail improvements, the Minnesota Department of Revenue estimates. The sales tax is equal to a penny on a $4 purchase.

A new five-county transit board known as the County Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) will receive the first revenue in September.

Some of that money might be available for Red Rock transit, Rogers said.

East-metro counties will be watching the Northstar commuter rail line from Big Lake to Minneapolis to find out if ridership exceeds projections, Rogers said. Transit planners consider Northstar, which eventually will connect with Union Depot in St. Paul and a new transportation center in Minneapolis, as a model for other corridors. Northstar is scheduled to begin at the end of 2009.

Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554

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