The city has a $600,000 state grant to build a park-and-ride lot downtown that officials hope will become a stop for transit service.
Hastings has accepted a state grant to pave a parking lot near downtown with hopes the 100-spot lot will become a stop for a pilot bus service into the Twin Cities.
City and state officials are talking about extending Metro Transit bus service from its Cottage Grove transit station on Hwy. 61 to Hastings 6 miles south, Hastings Community Development Director John Hinzman said. Buses already run from Cottage Grove to Minneapolis and St. Paul.
"This is such a vital link," Hastings Mayor Paul Hicks said. Hastings has never had regular transit service to the Twin Cities, although Greyhound once stopped in town, he said. "This will be historic in the sense that we will be more connected to the metro area," Hicks said.
The City Council recently voted 6-1 to approve a 40-year lease agreement with the Metropolitan Council to build the parking lot for bus and, possibly, future commuter rail service, Hicks said.
The deal comes with a state grant of $600,000 to pave a gravel lot by the railroad depot near Tyler and 2nd Streets. The lease forbids the city from redeveloping the lot and restricts its use to commuting and general parking, Hicks said.
The city also hopes to receive up to $250,000 in state funds from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to pay for temporary bus service to relieve congestion during the construction of the new Hastings bridge, Hinzman said. He said a meeting regarding the bus service will be held with state officials in early January.
"Discussions are going on with Metropolitan Council, MnDOT and Hastings on how to provide the bus service," said Steve Dornfeld, public affairs director for Met Council, which administers the parking lot funds. He said the Legislature allocated the parking lot funds a few years ago for the envisioned Red Rock Corridor commuter rail line.
Hicks said the parking lot site sits by the depot tracks and could be a stop for Red Rock train service, if that is ever funded. He's hopeful the commuter bus will be a precursor of regular bus service until a commuter train arrives.
Who provides service?
Dornfeld said Metro Transit can't currently provide regular bus service to Hastings because it is not part of the metro area's transit taxing district, which supports public transit. He said MnDOT could pay for a temporary extension of Metro Transit's Cottage Grove bus route or it could contract with a private bus service.
Dornfeld said a similar bus service started in October to carry Forest Lake area commuters to downtown St. Paul. The Met Council is overseeing the one-year demonstration project, paid for with fares and county and federal funds.
Hicks said Hastings has not joined the transit taxing district because until now it has not received any transit service. However, if the city is assured of ongoing bus service, "we are willing to discuss joining the transit taxing area," he said.
Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said she and other legislators inserted language in a transportation bill a few years ago allowing MnDOT to spend up to $250,000 in dedicated bridge funds for a Hastings bus service to mitigate congestion. Sieben said that years ago, state funding for the Wakota Bridge at Interstate 494 and Hwy. 61 helped expand regular public bus service to Cottage Grove, and she hopes the same will happen in Hastings.
"We have a lot of commuters to Minneapolis and St. Paul," said Hicks, who works in St. Paul. "Studies on the Red Rock Corridor have shown strong interest in transit, but it's never been available down in this end of the woods."
The city estimates it will cost about $615,000 to build the parking lot that will cover part of a vacant block. Hinzman said the city has economic development funds for expenses not covered by the state grant. He said city staff members are preparing parking lot specifications for contractors to bid on and, the city hopes, pave before summer.
Hinzman said he has begun talking with the Met Council about commuter buses making several daily trips to the new park-and-ride lot. He said the $250,000 could cover the estimated cost of bus service for about a year.
Jim Adams • 952-707-9996