It’s an exciting time to be working on metro transit – if you’re in the right place.
Passengers board the Shakopee Transit Blue Xpress bus, which eventually could factor into any rapid busway that ran east-west across Eden Prairie and Bloomington. Such a route would try to capitalize on the employment concentrations along the 494 corridor.
The people planning the future of Twin Cities transit are hoping that in two years, they’ll be hosting the premier national convention in the field of urban rail transport.
Why 2014? Because that’s the year when the Twin Cities transit system might finally start to feel big-league: When light rail links Minneapolis and St. Paul amid progress on hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transit infrastructure, from downtown hubs to rapid busways zipping through cornfields.
“There’s a lot happening across the metro at the moment,” said Lindsey Wollschlager of Richardson, Richter & Associates Inc., which consults in the region’s transit planning. “Exciting time to be working in transit.”
Emotions are mixed these days south of the river, though.
In Dakota County, residents will see one transitway open this year while two others are being planned and a fourth is partially in place but delayed for now. And Scott County is laboring to gain any sort of foothold in the system that is taking shape.
Michael Leek , transit chief in Shakopee, is only partly joking when he speaks of our new “five-county metro area.” He means the usual seven minus Scott and Carver, which opted out of a quarter-cent sales tax for transit in 2008. That decision is having immense consequences.
“Regional planning is regional planning — it shouldn’t stop at any county line,” Leek said. “We need to have a conversation about having a transitway here, too.”
Experts agree there’s a color line developing in Twin Cities transit: While lots of places fantasize about future transitways, the serious projects are those far enough along to be assigned a color-coded name as part of the Met Council’s so-called “Metro” system.
Conversely, if you don’t have a color, you don’t have a line. You’re just standing in line.
So, just which rail and bus lines are likely to happen any time soon, and which are still lines on a map representing hopes and dreams?
As it happens, the Counties Transit Improvement Board, the five-county entity that dishes out the fortune gathered in from the sales tax, has been pondering the same thing, querying planners of all the main lines about their latest expectations. That information, in distilled form, and subject to lots of future unknowns, is conveyed on the map accompanying this story.
Here’s a project-by-project look at the pieces of the picture most relevant to the south metro, starting with that which seems most realistic and trailing off with the most distant fantasies:
CEDAR AVENUE BUSWAY
If there’s a hot spot in the south metro transit scene in 2012, it’s Cedar Avenue.
There’s major roadwork, bus station construction and a flurry of other tasks to finish to launch the metro area’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) system between Apple Valley and Bloomington. Dubbed the Red Line, it’s supposed to open in November.
It’s not light rail, but it’s meant to evoke the idea of trains on a track. Sleek buses will roll along dedicated shoulder lanes and stop at distinctive stations every 15 minutes.
Plans call for additional stations and service into Lakeville sometime between 2012 and 2020, depending on growth and ridership, among other things.
In addition to being the region’s first BRT line — something that no doubt will be watched carefully — it’s the first major transit line to stretch beyond Hennepin and Ramsey counties, linking the city and suburbs with service that runs regularly throughout the day, not just during the commuter rush.