State shows off I-35W bus rapid transit options

In late September, the Minnesota Department of Transportation presented three options to the public for bus rapid transit (BRT) on I-35W.

BRT is a bus system with priority lanes, which would offer bus riders faster commuting times from Lakeville through Southwest. Attendees at King Park saw a computerized demonstration of BRT in use. Transportation Department consultants reviewed three main options:

– A 14-foot-wide BRT/high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane not separated from general traffic by a concrete barrier. (HOV lanes are designated for cars with two or more occupants);

– A barrier-free BRT lane running on the highway's outside shoulder with an HOV lane running in the center;

– A BRT/HOV lane separated from regular traffic by concrete barriers.

Transportation Department Project Manager John Griffith said the 14-foot option is favored by staff, because the other options require a larger highway expansion, and concrete barriers make it difficult to pattern traffic with highway exits and hard to enforce HOV restrictions. He also said it was the cheapest model.

The BRT options are part of a state study set to be finished in December. However, Transportation Department staffers held the public meeting to get citizen input before recommending a specific BRT plan for I-35W, including Crosstown Commons reconstruction plans at the I-35W junction.

On Sept. 3, the Minneapolis City Council withheld municipal consent for a Crosstown Commons reconstruction because it wanted a firmer state commitment to build and operate BRT along the entire I-35W corridor.

Transportation Department officials are also formulating additional recommendations including extending BRT all the way to Downtown, which would necessitate BRT's inclusion in the I-35W Access Project, which is relocating some I-35W highway ramps between 26th & 38th streets.

Transportation officials also recommend securing money to complete a BRT station at 46th Street over I-35W and work with law enforcement to ensure busses can travel at the posted 55 mph.

The 46th Street station would place a regular bus stop on the bridge, with an elevator to take passengers down to I-35W to connect with BRT. It would be similar to the Uptown Transit Station at 29th Street and Hennepin Avenue South but would not feature parking and bus turnarounds, a la the "bus hub" proposal floated four years ago.

For more information about the state's BRT study, visit projects.dot.state.mn.us/urs/035w/.