Having weighed two alternatives for a new busway from Hastings to downtown St. Paul, east metro civic leaders are recommending the one that would cost $15 million more to start with and take 64 minutes end-to-end instead of 43.
So they’re bracing for questions as the public is invited to weigh in on the ideas this month.
“How do the costs stack up with the advantages?” said Washington County planner Lyssa Leitner. “People will see that differently. Our elected officials ask those same questions.”
At stake is the future of the Red Rock corridor, and whether to aim for six stations and a highway-based quickness or 12 stations that serve local areas better.
A growing industrial park in Cottage Grove, for instance, might be likelier to add thousands of jobs if transit access were improved.
An open house to gather public comment will be held Jan. 13 at St. Paul Park City Hall.
Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham stressed that the idea is to phase in the service.
“You wouldn’t have three stations in Hastings, or two or three in Cottage Grove, right off the bat,” she said.
It’s not clear when any of it would actually happen. But planners stress that it’s important to make siting decisions now, partly because cities are launching 10-year planning processes soon. The line would benefit from cities placing lots of housing units and jobs near future stations.
An advance hint of potential public distaste comes from the corridor’s lightly used Facebook page, where Mike Skweres of St. Paul Park observes: “A slow ride from Hastings.”
But planners say the busway wouldn’t be designed as a long-range commuter route; the new transitway, mimicking light rail, wouldn’t replace conventional express buses.
The two choices being considered:
• Alternative 1 would hook together existing park-and-rides along Hwy. 61 from central Hastings to downtown St. Paul. It would be the cheapest, and fastest. Stops in between are in Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Newport and Lower Afton Road in St. Paul, convenient for western Woodbury and others.
• Alternative 2, 2 miles longer, probably would include the Dakota County Government Center in Hastings and would have 12 stops instead of six, slowing the ride, but bringing more riders closer to stations. With more intermediate trips, the average trip length would be the same as Option 1.
Option 2 would cost $43.7 million to build, vs. $28.6 million for No. 1. Annual operations and maintenance would run $7.7 million for No. 2, vs. $6 million for No. 1.
Planners reckon that boardings for No. 2 would be greater: 2,150 users vs. 1,250, by 2040. Jobs in the immediate vicinity would rise to 3,200 instead of 700.
All those figures sound skimpy compared to the costs. But planners stress that they have to base their reckoning on current formal city plans, which could change a lot in the next few years. If more high-density housing and more jobs spring up nearby, the numbers would grow.
The service would run every 15 minutes until early evening in both directions. That means, as on the Red Line on Cedar Avenue in the south metro, that a commuter could zip in on express buses in the morning, but still have an option to return home via the busway if a child took sick.
Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik, who serves on the Red Rock board, told colleagues at a recent meeting that such flexibility has helped both services.
“The Red Line has run close to its expected numbers; it depends on the month,” he said. “But the express bus has continued to increase. That growth has been above expectations.”
Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman said the issues are similar to those that faced Green Line light rail along University Avenue in St. Paul.
That line was criticized for slow speeds for those wishing to cover the entire ground from one downtown to the other, she said, when “the line was created as a vehicle for the area,” that is, local people, after a fierce battle to add stations to make it more convenient for them.