Plans for a new transitway crossing south Washington County are moving ahead amid misgivings over the details.
The commission creating a new Red Rock Corridor busway, offering all-day service from Hastings to St. Paul’s Union Depot, has unanimously endorsed an alternative that creates potentially twice as many stations as the option it rejected.
But some transit users are shaking their heads, and commission members are uneasy with some key details such as the right number of stations — should it be six or 12?
“I hear few people saying six stations is the right number,” said Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik. “But many are saying 12 is too many.”
Other commissioners stressed that the whole scheme is designed to be phased in gradually over time: No one’s proposing to install a dozen stations at once, even though that option earned unanimous approval late last month.
Objections are coming from Cottage Grove and Hastings over tentative station locations in those cities, commission members said.
And there are disputes over the value of spending money to link Red Rock stations at the line’s north end to stations on the proposed Gateway Corridor busway, which is to run between St. Paul’s Union Depot and Woodbury via frontage roads on Interstate 94.
“People are questioning, ‘Why not just go to Union [Depot] and then take Gateway?’ ” Slavik said.
The chosen alternative route system would spend more time pausing in more places, making the ride take longer.
Those places that would get the extra service are pleased.
“Our City Council is just happy to be included at this point,” St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke told commission members.
When Red Rock was still being considered as a commuter rail line, St. Paul Park wouldn’t have been a stop. The bus is more flexible, able to jump off Hwy. 61 at any place planners choose.
Public comments, included in the commission’s documents but with names blacked out, were ambivalent.
“Eliminate the stop in St. Paul Park,” one person declared. “Express bus riders do not like stops.”
The same person added: “The service that is needed is express bus service to Minneapolis, not St. Paul. The majority of the ridership from this area works in Minneapolis.”
Planners said that type of comment underscores the need to educate transit users on the fact that Bus Rapid Transit is not an express, rush-hour commuter service: it runs all day. Faster express buses will still exist.
Moreover, public officials do understand the desire for service to Minneapolis, said Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham, and hope to provide it.
The next step, in the spring and summer, is for planners to drill down to more exact details, including station locations and phase-in plans.
“Hastings and Cottage Grove are up in the air,” Bigham said, with disputes over precise locations, “but now is not the time to decide those spots.”