Urban planners are advancing designs for a new express transit system to run on major city streets that combines features of light-rail transit with the flexibility of bus travel.

The first intracity bus rapid-transit route would run down Snelling Avenue and Ford Parkway in St. Paul and connect with the 46th Street Hiawatha LRT station in Minneapolis. By using sidewalk pay stations, making fewer stops and offering easier boarding, the BRT would cut 13 minutes from current bus travel on the route.

"People are more inclined to use the bus if it travels faster, and one of the things that slows the buses down is the time it takes people to board," said Mark Filipi, a planner for the Metropolitan Council, which oversees Twin Cities transit.

In many respects the new hybrid transit would mimic the highway BRTs underway on Interstate 35W and about to run on Cedar Avenue.

The Snelling route rose to the top of about a dozen routes under consideration for the intracity BRT. It would cost about $25 million for buses and to design and create stations with heat, lighting and ticket machines, said Charles Carlson, metro transitway planner.

Carlson said a key part of the planning this year will be to identify sources of funding for Snelling and future routes. The Twin Cities lost out to other metro areas in its bid for some federal money because other places were further along in planning their systems.

Los Angeles has a large network of rapid bus service, linked with light and heavy rail. Kansas City is expanding a rapid bus system. Cleveland began building a bus rapid-transit line as an alternative to a more expensive subway, and relies heavily on a dedicated traffic lane. That feature increases costs. Twin Cities transit officials have no plans for dedicated lanes.

It's unclear whether the new arterial BRT would qualify for special five-county, quarter-cent sales tax revenue earmarked mostly for expanding transit with LRTs and highway BRTs.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504