A $278,000 study of Dakota County transit options confirmed what the County Board already knew: North-south corridors are well served, but east-west corridors need attention.
On Tuesday, the Board approved the study's recommendations to focus transit development on five east-west corridors where expanded local transit might provide more options for people trying to travel across the county for work or school.
"There's been a pent-up demand for service that connects people east and west," said Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan. "In Dakota County, you're kind of out of the center core of transit in the metro area, and so we have to create our own corridors."
The recommendations could provide guidance in adding to or changing the routes of Metro Transit and the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA), the county's two main transit providers. Metro Transit serves South St. Paul, West St. Paul, Mendota Heights, Inver Grove Heights and Lakeville, while MVTA buses go to Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan and Rosemount.
The findings might also result in a completely new transit option, Egan said.
The study, which began in April 2016, was conducted by the county and the consulting firm Kimley-Horn. It began with 15 stretches of road, which were evaluated for their ability to serve various demographics and access to employment, institutions and services. Connecting to existing and future transit — including the Red Line, the Orange Line and proposed projects for the Robert Street and Red Rock Corridors — also was considered.
The results weren't surprising, said Joe Morneau, senior transit specialist for Dakota County. But weeding out some of the choices took effort, he said.
The county held open houses last year and collected input online. Of 28 comments recorded, five concerned a lack of transportation to Dakota County Technical College (DCTC). Three people mentioned Cedar Grove, a housing and shopping development in Eagan, and three mentioned County Road 42.
Student Yassine Baani, 19, said a bus to DCTC would "save his life," helping him avoid a long walk or getting up at 5 a.m. to hitch a ride.
Expanding transit on a section of Hwy. 42 is probably the most logical pick, Egan said. It ranked third on the study's list and would help DCTC students get to school.
Egan said he has a personal bias toward expanding transit on Yankee Doodle Road, which goes through Eagan, where he used to be mayor. There are several large apartment buildings being developed there and one-third of the state's new retail square footage will be in or near Central Park Commons, he said.
West St. Paul and South St. Paul, which have higher concentrations of poverty, generally saw higher demand for transit, Morneau said.
Metro Transit buses serve those cities, including Wentworth Avenue and Hwy. 110/Southview Boulevard, the two corridors recommended for expansion in the northern part of the county.
Cyndi Harper, a route planning manager for Metro Transit, said those two were already on the agency's radar.
Metro Transit has a route running parallel to Wentworth Avenue, though local service there is oriented toward St. Paul, Harper said. On Hwy. 110/Southview Boulevard, cars move too quickly for pedestrians to safely access transit now.
"There's quite a bit of additional work that's needed between the step of identifying that a corridor has potential and actually starting a route on it," Harper said.
The study helped identify barriers to bolstering transit in terms of infrastructure and land use, said Luther Wynder, MVTA's executive director. Elements that make transit more feasible include sidewalks, bus shelters and roads wide enough to allow buses to turn, he said.
"We see all of these [recommendations] as just opportunities for growth," Wynder said.
The County Board unanimously supported the study's recommendations. Commissioner Mike Slavik noted that most of the corridors selected were in the more populous northern and western parts of Dakota County. Slavik represents Hastings and several smaller cities and townships in the county's center and eastern edge.
The study included Hwy. 55, which goes to Hastings, but it ranked nearly last.
"In a true east-west corridor, we cannot forget communities like Hastings that are on the furthest east [side] of the county," Slavik said.
Next steps include ranking the list of five corridors, doing more research and talking with MVTA and Metro Transit, officials said. There's little question that the demand exists for more transit options.
Bill Droste, mayor of Rosemount, said the county's millennials and aging adults agree on that.
"From what I experience, they all want to know where the bus is," Droste said.