Community members are weighing in on transit services along Cedar Avenue as Dakota County tries to improve travel along the roadway that is home to the state's first bus rapid transit line.
The county is halfway through a yearlong study of the corridor that it will use to develop a plan for future changes. Officials are having two open houses this week to gather input on everything from bus station locations and design to future ridership and improved access.
One of the biggest topics under review is the Red Line bus rapid transit route that debuted in 2013. The bus line operates like a light rail, and was added to ease growing road congestion. It makes five stops and takes riders from the Mall of America to Apple Valley — though it will eventually be expanded south to Lakeville.
The Red Line has struggled during its first year and a half of operation, with lower average ridership and fare revenue than anticipated.
Some community members say a lack of awareness has contributed to that. Latino advocacy group La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles said too few people know about the bus line. The group has been knocking on doors and talking with people about the service.
"Those who do know about the line say taking the Cedar Ave. bus line hasn't made their traveling between work, school, the doctor, and the grocery store any easier," advocates wrote on La Asamblea's blog.
Metropolitan Council officials have said that fixing a time-consuming detour at the Cedar Grove stop in Eagan could increase the number of people who ride the line.
The county has already fielded a lot of questions and concerns about that stop, said Joe Morneau, a senior transit specialist with Dakota County.
He expects construction of the new Eagan station, which will be located in the middle of Cedar Avenue and eliminate the need for a detour, will begin this year.
But he was wary of setting a firm date for the plan to expand the Red Line south into Lakeville.
"As we learned in the recession, the development can go in fits and starts and that can effect the demand," Morneau said. "It might make more sense to build as the demand warrants vs. committing to a date."
Tim Roche, president of the Lakeville Area Chamber of Commerce, said the BRT stations should be built now, at today's prices, in anticipation of future needs.
"It's not, 'Will they come?' It's when they come," Roche said, noting that two major housing projects — one with 100 homes, another with 1,000 — will be built near Cedar Avenue in Lakeville over the next decade.
The chamber is also focusing on reverse commuters who can use the line, Roche said.
"We have businesses that are just clamoring for employees," he said, including companies at the state's second largest industrial park, Airlake, that is located along Cedar Avenue.
Opinions like Roche's and La Asamblea's will be gathered through online surveys and at open houses at the Cedar Grove and Apple Valley transit stations on Monday and Wednesday.
"This should go a ways in prioritizing … which improvements should be made," Morneau said. "It will certainly figure into the decisionmaking."
The new study will update a 2010 report on the road, which said that more than 150,000 vehicles travel on Cedar Avenue daily.
That number is expected to nearly double over the next 20 years as growth along the corridor continues — making the roadway a priority for the county.
Jessie Van Berkel • 952-746-3280