Two proposed park and ride expansions that are on the drawing board for next spring will provide more than 1,000 parking spots for bus riders in the east metro.

With the Minnesota Department of Transportation wrapping up an upgrade to the interchange at Hwy. 36 and Rice Street, the Little Canada City Council has given its blessing to Metro Transit's plan to build a park and ride lot nearby.

Metro Transit also plans to put up a parking deck at Maplewood Mall that will double capacity and accommodate as many as 800 vehicles.

Both projects, scheduled to begin next spring, continue Metro Transit's goal of expanding its park and ride network to meet rising demand from commuters who work in downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis.

Lots in Woodbury, Vadnais Heights and Hugo are in the planning stages -- as is a lot for Maple Plain in the west metro -- as the number of people who board express buses to the downtowns continues to soar. Routes that serve park and ride lots have ferried 7.3 million customers during the first nine months of 2011, a 5 percent increase over the same period last year, said John Siqveland, a Metro Transit spokesman.

Express bus service accounts for 14 percent of Metro Transit bus ridership. The service provided 9.24 million rides in 2010, up 2.5 percent from 2009.

A major impetus for the new lot at County Road B and Rice Street, on the border of Roseville and Little Canada, is that Metro Transit's lease for the park and ride lot it operates at Rosedale Shopping Center expires next year. The new lot is expected provide 300 daily rides on weekdays and serve commuters from the east and northeast metro.

The lot will have space for 278 vehicles and will be served by seven express buses providing riders with round-trip rides to Minneapolis. A few people who use a Rice Street express bus to downtown St. Paul may also use the lot, Siqveland said.

"This will help provide adequate coverage for the area," said Pat Jones, Metro Transit's assistant director of engineering and facilities. "We have one park and ride for west Roseville at 35W and County Road C and this will provide coverage for east Roseville and nearby communities."

Metro Transit wanted to put a lot at the busy interchange five years ago, but Little Canada, Maplewood, Roseville and Ramsey County Public Works denied the request, citing concern from St. Jude's, Little Canada's largest employer, that such a lot would compound traffic problems. Now, with a reconfigured interchange and better traffic flow, they're on board.

"We have to look at the benefit to the entire community," said Little Canada Mayor Bill Blesener during an earlier public hearing.

The park and ride lot at Maplewood Mall has been so popular that the 400-space lot is often full and vehicles spill into adjacent mall parking. Metro Transit is currently seeking bids for that project, Jones said.

Metro Transit provided 76 million rides in each of the past two years, which hadn't happened since 1982. "Express bus service is a contributor to that," Siqveland said.

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib