For nearly two years, officials have faulted the circuitous Cedar Grove Station — a Red Line bus stop that meanders off the highway and slows down the trip from Apple Valley to the Mall of America — for low ridership on the line.
Now some Dakota County commissioners fear they are setting themselves up for the same problem as they review potential locations for the Burnsville station of the Orange Line bus rapid transit (BRT) route, which will take riders from downtown Minneapolis to Burnsville.
Two of the five options make some County Board members nervous because they involve routing buses off Interstate 35W and having them stop by the Heart of the City, a Burnsville shopping and dining hub. BRT lines are supposed to operate faster and more reliably than normal bus routes.
“I think somewhere down the line someone will complain that this is taking too long,” County Commissioner Liz Workman said. “With these options, I see nothing but problems. I see Cedar Grove all over again.”
But the Heart of the City options and Cedar Grove Station are two different cases, said Charles Carlson, a senior manager at Metro Transit who works with BRT.
The Cedar Grove route affected all riders on that line, whereas the Orange Line’s diversion from I-35W into Burnsville would only take a few minutes and affect a smaller percentage of users, he said. And if a station is located next to the interstate, people who are trying to get to Heart of the City destinations will have about a 15-minute walk.
Metro Transit is working with Dakota County, Burnsville and other transportation agencies to address concerns, Carlson said. They are also reviewing various concepts for a station at Burnsville Parkway and I-35W, he said.
Burnsville city officials prefer the Heart of the City option that is located on Travelers Trail by the intersection of Nicollet Avenue and Hwy. 13, Public Works Director Steve Albrecht said.
“It provides both opportunities for our businesses and employees, along with the people who live here, just to have a better transit access,” Albrecht said. “And we don’t think that could be a bad thing for our Heart of the City, to have it more accessible to more people.”
The City Council would also support an “offline station” concept at Burnsville Parkway and I-35W, he said. “Offline” means the station would be located on a road next to the interstate.
For the Red Line, transit officials are replacing the Cedar Grove station with an “online” stop in the middle of Cedar Avenue for about $15 million. It is expected to reduce round-trip travel time by about 10 minutes.
“Why aren’t we learning the lesson there?” Workman said.
Funding the line
Construction of the Orange Line is scheduled to begin in 2017. The line is eventually expected to extend south to the Kenrick Avenue park-and-ride lot in Lakeville, although there’s no timeline for that extension yet.
If the Burnsville station is not located by 35W, when it comes time to extend the line farther south, “we could have a major problem here,” Commissioner Nancy Schouweiler said at a recent board meeting. She asked Metro Transit officials for more information on the stations proposed by Burnsville Parkway and the interstate.
The commissioners will discuss the Orange Line on Tuesday, focusing on the funding split between Hennepin and Dakota counties. Dakota County is anticipated to pay $2.1 million, or 1.4 percent of the $150.7 million cost of the project. Hennepin County recently agreed to pay $12.8 million. Other funding is expected to come from regional, state and federal sources.
Dakota County could add contingencies to its funding agreement, such as requiring an acceptable station location.
Commissioner Mary Liz Holberg, who echoed concerns of a Cedar Grove Station repeat, pointed out a possible spending reduction. She said it seems duplicative to build another bus station near the Burnsville Transit Station that’s already on Hwy. 13 by the Heart of the City.
“I’m just a little perplexed on why we can’t do some kind of remodel of the existing station,” Holberg said. “In many people’s minds, they’re going to be redundant or competing systems, and how much more infrastructure do we need, given that?”
Metro Transit considered using what is already there, Carlson said, but with a growing number of riders and buses at the station, officials decided it would be best not to further burden the site.