Days after the state’s first-ever Bus Rapid Transit line was launched along Cedar Avenue, a roomful of transportation insiders gathered late last week to help decide what a whole system of lines just like it should look like, flung all across the Twin Cities.
Not surprisingly, the table peopled by folks from Scott and Carver counties was the most jampacked and apparently the most plagued by objections — so much so that it kept the rest of the room waiting.
They wanted to know:
• Why do draft plans call for a station on Hwy. 169 at Pioneer Trail, north of the river, when there are masses of jobs on Old Shakopee Road in Bloomington?
• Why is no station being proposed for 169 and County Road 83 — the most logical jumping-off point to Mystic Lake Casino, the county’s biggest jobs hub — as well as Canterbury Park?
• And why are the two stations that are proposed for Scott County — at Stagecoach and Marschall Roads — being treated as questionable stepchildren, with nothing like the emphatic endorsement of all the other stations along 169?
“Can we see the data that goes along with this?” asked Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke, who was told yes, eventually, but not yet.
Across the table were staff and consultants for the Metropolitan Council, leading a so-called Highway Transitway Corridor Study that is examining eight potential busway lines around the metro.
One would run out Hwy. 212 and could be an option for some Scott commuters — especially if, as Carver County officials suggested, the busway were extended to the city of Carver, which is getting a new transit station for express service.
The answer to the Scott folks’s first two questions was a lot of scribbling and chin-stroking and “hmmm, good point.”
The answer to the third one, though, was to challenge them right back.
Officials from Metro Transit and others reminded the locals that communities need to be willing to plan for some serious residential and jobs density — numbers often resisted by newer suburbs — if they are going to justify 16 hours a day of costly service at 15-minute intervals.
“We’re not pushing this on people,” said Metro Transit planner Adam Harrington. “But it is a trade-off” they need to consider.
A key Scott County transportation official, Lisa Freese, agreed.
“Our communities have to ask, ‘Are you willing to develop at more density?’ Shakopee in particular,” being right along the highway. “You have undeveloped land; are you willing to sit down as a community and think about that?”
Tabke pointed out that plans are afoot for lots of additional jobs along the highway.
“As Emerson happens, that’s a huge job center right there, and there’s a big hospital nearby,” he said before the meeting. “Yes, we’re at the edge of things, but with another 100,000 people headed for Scott County by 2030, you need to plan for that. That’s one of the talking points we’ve come here with.”
Lobbying for Hwy. 169
A wider issue foremost on the mind of Jon Ulrich, transportation point man for the Scott County Board, was just lobbying for a 169 line at all.
“We need to be included here,” he said.
Compared to other corridors, the meeting made clear that 169 has drawbacks:
• It feels a bit duplicative of the Southwest Corridor light rail line, running from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
• No express bus service would go away, so why would commuters dump a nonstop service downtown for one that stops at stations all along the line?
• That’s especially true because a stop like General Mills Boulevard, potentially a major station because so many folks work there, could mean a five- to seven-minute wait for all other riders.
Conversely, though, Scott County officials are plainly worried about being left off the grid at a time when gas prices are volatile and transit could pull in a lot of riders.
Carver officials noted that, much like with Scott, a lot of their folks are aging and are going to be looking for options other than the car.
Chance to weigh in
Last week’s meeting was billed as a major chance for local officials to weigh in on the evolving plans for transit lines, but far from the end point.
Met Council officials stressed that one key goal was to let cities and counties know what they need to do in their own planning to maximize their chances of being included in the system as it grows.
For both Scott and Carver, there was lots of talk of chickens and eggs: Do stations follow high density, or do stations create the conditions for density to occur? Whose first move is it?
The 169 busway, according to the preliminary draft, would have stops at Marschall Road in Shakopee, site of a major transit station being created right now; Stagecoach Road; Pioneer Trail in Bloomington; something in the Golden Triangle area of Eden Prairie, site yet to be decided; Bren Road, Excelsior Boulevard, Cedar Lake Road, and then turning east on 394, at General Mills Boulevard, Louisiana Avenue and Xenia Avenue, site of the West End development in St. Louis Park, before finally heading downtown.