A plan that would significantly alter bus routes and add more service in the south metro to coincide with the opening of the new Orange Line is on its way to the Metropolitan Council for approval.
Metro Transit is seeking the council's blessing to implement its Orange Line Connecting Bus Study when the new station-to-station rapid bus service along Interstate 35W between downtown Minneapolis and Burnsville begins operating later this year.
The Met Council is expected to address the plan in June. If given the thumbs-up, Metro Transit will reconfigure 11 routes to get riders to and from the Orange Line, which would largely replace limited-stop Route 535 with frequent all-day service in both directions, seven days a week.
The agency also would add five new local routes, reinstate at least two routes suspended when the pandemic began and beef up service on routes through Bloomington, Richfield, Edina and south Minneapolis. It would amount to a 20% increase in service on weekdays, a 33% increase on Saturdays and a 15% increase on Sundays.
"It's quite a bit more service than we have out there today," said Cyndi Harper, Metro Transit's manager of route planning.
Metro Transit officials spent several months coming up with a plan to streamline operations and make it easier for riders to access jobs and the Orange Line. The agency collected more than 600 responses to a survey over the winter and used comments to shape the final plan, Harper said. The makeover is similar to what Metro Transit did in 2014, when many routes were reconfigured in tandem with the opening of the Green Line.
To pave the way for the Orange Line, express route 597 from southwest Bloomington would be cut and replaced with local routes to bring riders to the South Bloomington Transit Center, which will be renamed the 98th Street Station. From there, passengers can take the Orange Line to downtown Minneapolis.
New connecting service along Old Shakopee Road and Normandale Boulevard would replace the local portion of Route 597, better serving residents and employers in west Bloomington, Harper said.
Another new route, 501, would connect the Mall of America with FedEx and UPS facilities on the west side of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. A third route, 534, would serve Lyndale Avenue, American Boulevard, Penn Avenue, 90th Street and Normandale Community College.
Existing routes would also see changes. Route 515, which runs east-west from the Southdale Transit Center to the Mall of America, would increase service to every 15 minutes on weekdays and Saturdays.
Route 542, a line cut during the pandemic, would resume all-day service along American Boulevard and W. 78th Street and connect with the Orange Line at American Boulevard Station. The line would be extended to Braemar Arena in Edina, where Harper said riders heading into Eden Prairie could connect with SouthWest Prime, SouthWest Transit's on-demand ride service.
Overall, three south metro bus lines would run more often during weekday rush hours, six would have more service during the midday period, two would have buses running more often evenings and Sundays, and four would boost Saturday service.
"We are excited about the Orange Line," Harper said. "Offering more frequent service and some on weekends where they don't have it today, we'll be a seven-day-a-week network."
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768