New plan would change Southwest bus service

One route cut, 11 changed and two new; I-35W transit stations at 35th, 46th and Diamond-Lake planned

Bus service in Southwest would be greatly improved, say Metro Transit planners, if the new plan goes into effect.

Metro Transit’s so-called "Sector 5" plan — which includes parts of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Edina, Bloomington and Richfield — would:

– Cut one route connecting the University of Minnesota to Southwest from I-35W to 46th Street to Nicollet Ave. then to 50th Street to Edina;

– Change and consolidate 11 current Southwest routes;

– Add two routes improving crosstown traffic and 35W access to Downtown and Southern suburbs;

– Add transit stations along 35W at 35th/36th streets, 46th Street and Diamond Lake Road.

(For full details, see sidebar.)

The plan was released for public comment Dec. 9. If approved, the Minneapolis changes would occur in early 2004.

Adam Harrington, Metro Transit’s manager of route and system development, said the route plan would eliminate redundant routes, focus service on high-frequency corridors and link transit with future I-35W access plans.

The transit stations at 35th/36th streets, 46th Street and Diamond Lake would be toned-down versions of the Uptown Transit station — larger, enclosed stops for several routes — with no park-and-ride capabilities. According to the plan’s map, buses wouldn’t be rerouted to the new transit stations, but cross-town routes and new express and shuttle routes serving I-35W would intersect at the Southwest stations. The transit station at 35th/36th would move to 38th Street if I-35W ramps are moved there.

Some Kingfield residents liked the idea; the 46th Street station would be at the southeastern corner of the neighborhood. Monique Richards said although the station would be close to her house, being a bus rider, she’d love it. She said she really likes the Uptown transit station and would welcome something similar in Kingfield.

Arthur Knowles, another Kingfield resident, said he’s also in favor of the station, even if it would inconvenience some residents, because transit has to be more accessible. "Transit has to be a higher priority than it is," he said.

Bob Gibbons, Metro Transit director of customer service, said that while the plan mostly redistributes current service, a $13.4 million federal grant allowed some service expansion. He said the new plan would cost $80 million, above Sector 5’s current $75 million operating budget, but the grants would fund expanded service for three years. After that, Gibbons said, there’s no guarantee added service can continue.

Harrington said that if people like the revised service, they would support continued state funding once the federal money runs out.

Gibbons acknowledged that the state’s projected $4.5 billion shortfall through 2005 could alter transit funding, but said his agency would still send the plan out for public comment (see schedule, right).

Frank Hornstein, who represents south Minneapolis on the Metropolitan Council, which governs Metro Transit, said the new plan was feasible because it was a reordering, not a massive expansion. Hornstein, who becomes a DFL state legislator in January, said the plan tried to improve transit and withstand some funding cuts. However, Hornstein said if transit’s budget is significantly cut, "we can’t do this."

Hornstein offered hope for continued funding because transit has support from the public and private groups such the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Although Governor-elect Tim Pawlenty has expressed doubts about transit funding, and appoints Met Council members, Hornstein said he doesn’t anticipate any problems implementing the Sector 5 plan. However, Hornstein acknowledged a new council’s reaction to the plan isn’t certain. "It will be interesting," he said.

If everything goes as planned, Gibbons said St. Paul routes would be changed first in September 2003. In the meantime, he said Metro Transit will solicit public input through community meetings. The public comment period lasts until Feb. 14. For more information, visit www.metrotransit.org.

New routes

Route 46 would be a crosstown route between Edina and St. Paul, running through Southwest from the proposed 46th Street bus station to 50th Street connecting to Edina. The frequency during weekday peak hours would be about every 15 minutes.

Route 535 B, C and D, would be a new all-day express shuttle from downtown to Richfield and Bloomington, stopping at I-35W transit stations. Depending on the route, weekday frequency would range from eight to 15 minutes.

Route cuts

Route 52 B, which runs to and from the University of Minnesota to Edina on 50th Street between I-35W and Nicollet Ave., will be discontinued.

Route changes

Route 4E — which connects downtown to Edina thru Southwest following Hennepin, Lyndale and Bryant avenues to 50th Street — would be shortened and redirected. The route would no longer go to Edina, but turn south on Penn Avenue at 50th Street into Richfield, slightly improving the wait time during weekday peak hours.

Routes 6 and 28 — from the University of Minnesota across the Hennepin Avenue Bridge through downtown and Southwest to Edina via France Avenue (6F) and Xerxes Avenue (6E) — would be consolidated into one route. The change eliminates east-to-west service between France and Xerxes on 44th Street. Waiting time would be cut in half during weekday peak hours.

Route 18 would be streamlined from downtown through Southwest into Bloomington and the Mall of America. The Nicollet Avenue route would remain, but Grand Avenue, 56th, 58th and 60th streets spurs, and access to Southdale Center, would be discontinued. Bus frequency would not change.

Route 23, which connects Southwest to St. Paul via 38th Street, would remain primarily unchanged, except for a deviation to the proposed 35th/36th Street transit stations, where they intersect at I-35W, allowing commuters access to highway buses. (The 35th/36th transit station would move to 38th Street if the highway ramps are moved). Because of more frequent bus service, wait times during peak hours would be cut in half.

Route 52C, connecting the University of Minnesota to Southwest via Lyndale Avenue would become route 124, keeping the same route, but discontinuing service on Lyndale south of 38th. Frequency would remain the same.

Route 52LU, which connects the University of Minnesota to Southwest along Hennepin, would become route 126, with a few changes. It would no longer run on Lyndale to 24th Street after exiting I-94W, but would exit on Hennepin Avenue. The route would follow Hennepin, but discontinue service south of 36th. Bus frequency would remain the same.

Route 135, linking the University of Minnesota to Southwest, would change service slightly in the southern portion of the route. Service would remain the same to and from the University and through downtown onto I-35W, but instead of connecting to Southwest at 35th and 36th Streets, the route would run on 38th Street, then to Lyndale Avenue, and extending service south to 50th Street. Frequency would remain the same.

Route 156 would replace route 558, keeping essentially the same route connecting downtown via I-35W through Diamond Lake Road to Xerxes Avenue into Edina. However bus frequency would be increased, cutting wait times from 15 minutes to seven.

Route 191 would be replaced by route 51, offering limited stops along Lake Street connecting the Uptown Transit station on Hennepin Avenue to the Midway shopping area in St. Paul. More buses during weekday peak hours would cut wait time in half.

Route 554 would replace 35 L, S and U, although the route would remain unchanged, still connecting downtown via Marquette and 2nd avenues to Bloomington following I-35W. Buses would come approximately every 30 minutes.

— Compiled by Robyn Repya