A bus system that operates more like a train is emerging as the top choice for a new corridor linking St. Paul to the eastern suburbs.
The Gateway Corridor Commission recommended this week that bus rapid transit be the preferred mode of transportation for a proposed route between St. Paul's Union Depot and Woodbury, running roughly parallel to Interstate 94.
Bus rapid transit also got a boost this week when the Metropolitan Council approved a new line for Snelling Avenue and Ford Parkway between the Rosedale Transit Center in Roseville and the Blue Line 46th Street Station in Minneapolis. It will be the first of its kind in the Twin Cities.
Andy Gitzlaff, a transportation planner for Washington County, said planners of the 12-mile transit line were comparing the advantages of rapid bus with light rail. Planners estimated that light rail on the corridor would cost more than twice as much as the $400 million BRT.
"We're showing that you can actually move the same amount, if not more, people on a BRT system than an [light rail] system through this corridor," Gitzlaff said.
Bus rapid transit in its pure form runs train-like buses on dedicated lanes. Gitzlaff said the study showed that riders are attracted to its reliability.
The Gateway Corridor Commission, made up of representatives from the areas served by the line, will now move to approve and sign local governments up in support of the Locally Preferred Alternative plan, which it needs to be eligible for some federal funding.
An Environmental Impact Statement on the line is expected to be completed by the middle of next year. If all goes according to schedule and financing falls into place, Gitzlaff said construction will start in 2018 and the line will open in 2021.
Members of the public will be able to comment on the plans for the line, including the location of stations, at a public hearing on Aug. 7 at Conway Recreation Center in St. Paul.