Duplication of effort, strained relationships and turf battles hampered the delivery of the first-of-its kind Cedar Avenue busway, which will open — six months later than originally planned — on June 22, under considerable pressure to perform.
As Minnesota’s first test of a less-expensive alternative to light rail that connects with the metro area’s fledgling light-rail system, the project required cooperation between a host of agencies with overlapping authority, including Dakota County, the independent suburban Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA), and Metro Transit and Metropolitan Council, which plan and operate metro bus and rail service.
Some of those involved are conceding that the project did not come together as efficiently as it should have, and they are drafting a list of lessons learned to do a better job with the next bus rapid transit (BRT) line.
“Agency relationships and interaction during development of the [first stage] of the Cedar Avenue BRT project have at times contributed to barriers, additional cost and inefficiency,” Dakota County Transportation Director Mark Krebsbach said in a recent memo.
After missing the initial opening target of November 2012, the four agencies are now clarifying their roles, stressing partnership and soothing turf tensions as they aim for a smooth June launch of the $112 million busway from Bloomington through Eagan and Apple Valley.
Because it will be the first demonstration of BRT in the metro area, a good launch will be critical, said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who was instrumental in opening the Hiawatha light-rail line and has been a supporter of the Cedar busway.
“You only get one chance to make a first impression, and that is very important,” McLaughlin said.
Dakota County commissioners are optimistic, but they have at times expressed dismay at the many layers of government involved.
“Keeping all the players moving in the same direction has been as much of a battle as everything else,” said Dakota County Commissioner Nancy Schouweiler.
“The agencies involved were the right ones, they just decided they wanted to overlap too much,” said former Dakota County Commissioner Will Branning, who shepherded the project for years. “I don’t know how many hundreds of meetings people went to.”
The busway started as Dakota County’s baby in 1998, and the MVTA, which provides bus service to Burnsville, Apple Valley, Eagan, Rosemount and Savage, also played an early role. When it was recognized as a regional busway and won federal funding, the transit part of the busway moved under the authority of the Metropolitan Council.
In June 2012, Robin Selvig, the MVTA’s manager of customer relations, noted in a memo to MVTA board members that the four agencies had worked for two years to clarify roles and responsibilities. That was “complicated by the fact that the transitway [runs] on a county-owned road; transitway facilities ownership and service provider responsibilities are split between the council, Metro Transit and MVTA.”
Disagreements add delay
In early 2012, a dispute over the design of two stations at 140th and 147th streets in Apple Valley slowed the project considerably.
Initially, the MVTA was responsible for station design, but the Met Council stepped in to say that ridership forecasts did not justify stations as big as MVTA was planning, nor did they warrant a skyway over Cedar to connect stations.
By March, the Met Council took over station design and construction in hopes of meeting the November launch date.
At that time, Krebsbach said: “We had one agency trying to design a station for another agency. It prompted questions about, ‘Do we have the right organizational structure to make decisions in streamlined fashion and as quickly as possible?’ ”
Soon it became clear the stations would not be finished and that the launch would move to 2013.
Now, as BRT prepares to roll in 15-minute intervals from the Mall of America to the Apple Valley transit stations seven days a week, the roles are clear: Met Council is the owner of the busway, four of the five stations and the buses. The MVTA will provide the bus service.
Looking back, “the one thing we will agree is that this project probably needed more dedicated [staff] resources from all partners,” said Arlene McCarthy, director of metropolitan transit services for the Metropolitan Council.
“It got started on a very fast track with urgent deadlines so we all kind of jumped in and worked to deliver the project and everyone tried to do it on top of their regular jobs,” McCarthy said.
With more BRT planned in coming years, including lines on Interstate 94 in the east metro and 35W in the south, Metro Transit has created a new office dedicated to getting future BRT lines up and running, she said.