After months of debate, the City Council voted to allow the construction of two "walk-up" busway stations to proceed.
Want a skyway, Apple Valley? Pony up some cash.
That's the compromise that has emerged after months of debate as the agencies building the Red Line busway on Cedar Avenue muscle the project toward completion in time for an already-delayed launch in spring 2013.
Officials from the Metropolitan Council, Dakota County and the city have been going round and round since March when designs for the "walk-up" bus stations near 140th and 147th Street were unveiled -- smaller than originally planned and delaying the construction of a skyway over Cedar at 147th Street until ridership grows.
City officials balked.
"We're set up for failure, best I can tell," City Council Member Ruth Grendahl said last week before casting the lone vote against allowing station construction to proceed. "When the ridership isn't there, I'm on record saying it's because of the design of these stations."
Other council members joined her in expressing ongoing concerns about parking near the stations, disruptions for local businesses and attractiveness and safety for pedestrians. A skyway over Cedar at 147th Street will make crossing the busy road safer and more convenient for those boarding or getting off buses at the stations, the council said.
Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland and Council Members Tom Goodwin and Clint Hooppaw, however, signed off on the building permits on the condition that Dakota County and the Metropolitan Council design and seek bids for the skyway along with the stations, then give the city a chance to decide whether to pay for its construction.
"In order to make an informed decision about spending money, we need to know how much it costs," Hamann-Roland said.
Earlier estimates put the cost at $1 million to $1.5 million, but have since been revised to $2.37 million.
How much would the city be willing to pay? Hamann-Roland said $1 million might be doable, but $2 million or more would be tough.
The city would also be responsible for housekeeping and maintenance of the skyway.
In a bit of an inter-governmental wager, the county would reimburse the city all or part of the skyway construction costs if the 147th station draws 600 riders daily before 2030.
Transit planners had estimated 200 average daily boardings at 147th Street when the busway opens, and cited that lower number in saying the skyway wasn't needed.
The Met Council, which oversees the regional transit system, had planned to build the 147th Street Station such that it would be ready for a skyway addition when there are enough riders to warrant it.
The deal, outlined by Dakota County Administrator Brandt Richardson in a letter to the city, still needs approval by county board members acting as the Regional Rail Authority.
The Regional Rail Authority has already scheduled a special meeting for early July to keep the station construction moving forward. The Met Council expects to open bids for the projects in August. The Apple Valley City Council would have make a decision on building the skyway before the construction contract is awarded.
"I know from the perspective of the [Dakota County Regional Rail Authority] board members that it is imperative that the Cedar Avenue BRT experience no further delay in the start-up schedule," Richardson wrote.
The bus rapid transit line was supposed to launch in late 2012. It is the first project of its kind in Minnesota and is meant as a cost-effective alternative to light rail, with sleek buses running along dedicated shoulder lanes between stations.
The city has pointed to advice from bus rapid transit experts who say convenience and amenities are key to getting new riders onto the bus.
"We want it built right," Hamann-Roland said.
Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286