ROCHESTER – Construction hasn't yet begun on a planned bus rapid transit line here, but it is already getting some $28 million in upgrades to make it more user-friendly.
City officials want to extend the Link Rapid Transit line from 2.6 miles to 2.8 miles along 2nd Street SW. from the West Transit Village through more of downtown Rochester. The upgrades include expanding and better weatherproofing bus stations and making street improvements to add bike and pedestrian safety options and transit-preferred lanes.
Deputy Administrator Cindy Steinhauser told the Rochester City Council on Monday night that the changes stem from public feedback on the project and will help expand transit options throughout the city.
"This will allow us to take (Rochester Public Transit) buses that are currently deployed along this corridor and redeploy them to other areas in this community," she said. The council approved the budget revisions.
The project grows from about $115 million to about $143 million and won't wrap up until spring 2026, a year later than initially projected. It's the first bus rapid transit project outside of the Twin Cities. Bus rapid transit is a streamlined transportation model involving dedicated bus lines, enhanced stations and fares collected before riders board.
Destination Medical Center plans to kick in $58 million toward the project, with the rest coming from federal funding. Rochester secured $56 million in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding in 2021 but plans to increase its request to $84 million later this year.
The city of Rochester is working on a 20-year agreement with Mayo Clinic for the hospital system to handle operating costs, as the city estimates about 95% of users would be Mayo employees. More than 13,000 residents live within 10 minutes of one of the proposed line's stations.
Steinhauser said the city hopes to finalize an agreement in the next few months so it can be included in its federal funding application, which must be done by mid-August to keep the project on schedule. The city and Mayo Clinic will also determine whether the Link line will be fare-free.
Council members set an update on the agreement by the end of July, as several expressed concerns the city may need to spend more on the project if the federal funding increase doesn't come through or Mayo Clinic doesn't agree to operating the transit line.
"To me, finalizing these agreements are when it will become real," Council Member Nick Campion said. "These agreements are fundamental. If we do not get them in place, I will continue to be suspicious about what's going to happen here."