Bus rapid transit route called best of many options considered
Transit advocates believe access to transit helps improve the overall quality of life for residents, such as dependable public transit for employees and employers and potential for economic development and other opportunities. One option for providing this service is called bus rapid transit (BRT).
Bus rapid transit, which employs buses on dedicated routes, is considered faster than regular bus service. For example, the “A” Line that mainly runs on Snelling Avenue is the first BRT in the area.
The Rush Line Corridor Policy Advisory Committee has been taking public comments on the proposed $420 million Rush Line Bus Rapid Transit until May 4. If approved, it will run from downtown St. Paul to downtown White Bear Lake, a 12-mile dedicated route, starting at the Union Depot in St. Paul. The route runs along Robert Street and Phalen Blvd., Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority right-of-way (Bruce Vento Trail), and Hwy. 61, ending in White Bear Lake.
A pre-project public hearing and open house was held last week at St. Paul’s Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. After the public comments period closes this week, public input will be reviewed and then a vote on the plan taken by the Rush Line Corridor Policy Advisory Committee at its May 25 meeting. Officials of Ramsey County and cities along the route will be asked to confirm their support during the summer with the goal of beginning the required environmental study sometime this fall.
“We did a lot of engagement on this project,” said Project Manager Andy Gitzlaff last week at the MSR offices. He explained that the Rush Line BRT plan was “the locally preferred alternative” among four plans that over 5,000 people reviewed at community meetings, traditional open houses, and “pop-up meetings” at various community events and at local businesses.
“We looked at a bunch of different options. When I started with the project in 2015, there were 15-20 different options,” noted the senior transportation planner.
The current plan is believed to be the best alternative, because it can serve “very concentrated [areas] of poverty [and] people of color,” stated Gitzlaff. The Rush Line BRT also will serve students, Regions Hospital, Gillette Children’s Hospital and Maplewood Mall as an “all-day type of service,” he noted: “ten minutes service every day [during rush hours] and 15 minutes throughout the day, and even into later night [hours]” with the seven days a week transit service.
Unlike light rail, BRT construction is less disruptive, continued Gitzlaff. No private property acquisition is needed for the Rush Line, because Ramsey County has owned over half of the route since the early 1990s. “You don’t have to tear up everything underneath or move all the utilities. You can do a quicker process than if you are putting in tracks” as well as use existing roads, he said. “In some spots it’s two lanes, and in some spots it’s four lanes. We may not need all four lanes, so converting two of them for bus lanes [may be an option].
“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Gitzlaff. “Our goal this fall is to start the environmental study,” which is expected to take two years to complete, “and then another four to five years of engineering before we can [begin] constructing.”
If approved, the Rush Line BRT completion date would be in 2024. For more info, visit http://www.rushline.org.
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This story was updated 5/3/2017; 6:40 pm
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.