Southwest BRT lines facing funding delay

bus rapid transit route meeting
Dozens review plans and talk with Metro Transit staff about two proposed bus rapid transit routes at an open house on may 22 at the Walker Library. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

On May 22, dozens of people turned out to a joint meeting on two Bus Rapid Transit routes planned to run through Southwest Minneapolis, but a lack of new funding sources for Metro Transit in the 2019 Legislative session has put the future of those routes in flux.

Gov. Tim Walz and the DFL-controlled House of Representatives had tried to pass a new sales tax in the seven-county metro in part to help pay for a rollout of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system throughout the Twin Cities. But a new funding stream was not identified this session, putting a wrench in plans to expand BRT service in the immediate future.

“We won’t be able to advance these new lines unless we find some new revenue for transit,” Metropolitan Council spokesperson Kate Brickman said.

Currently Metro Transit runs the A Line BRT route from 46th Street East in Minneapolis into St. Paul on Snelling Avenue and is planning to open the C Line, connecting the northern suburbs to Downtown via Penn Avenue, on June 8.

In Southwest Minneapolis, transit advocates are hoping to see progress on the B Line, which would mostly replace Route 21 on Lake Street to St. Paul, and the E Line, a service planned to run on the Hennepin Corridor connecting Southdale to Marcy Holmes via Uptown and Downtown.

“Everything I hear from my constituents is they want better bus service as soon as possible,” City Council President Lisa Bender (Ward 10) said at an open house for the B and E lines at the Walker Library.

bus rapid transit route lines

BRT service, planners say, increases speed and comfort of bus service with more developed stations farther apart than standard stops, payment before boarding (at either the front or middle of the bus) and the ability for buses to communicate with traffic signals to get elongated or faster green lights at key intersections.

The B Line would connect the future Southwest Light Rail Transit stop at West Lake Street to St. Paul via Lake Street and Marshall Avenue. Right now, planners are trying to determine where the route will end in St. Paul, with the potential of a connection to Downtown via Selby Avenue on the table, according to project manager Adam Smith.

On Lake Street in Minneapolis, planners are seeking feedback on where the major backups are for riders of the 21 and deciding where to place stops. If the B Line and other under-construction and planned transit routes come online, Lake Street will have connections to both light rail lines and three BRT routes.

“One of the things the B Line really does is get us to think about our high-quality transit routes as a real network,” Smith said.

The B Line’s initial cost estimate is $54 million and about $23 million has been raised for the project. But without a new funding source for transit, it’s unclear whether the goal of starting construction in 2022 will be met.

For the E Line, planners are now recommending the Hennepin corridor BRT route cross the Mississippi and take University Avenue to either the Westgate or Stadium Village light rail station. In Southwest, they’re deciding between three route options to get from south of Hennepin Avenue to Southdale, all of which take Sheridan Avenue to West 44th Street. One option goes west on 44th to France Avenue South into Edina, another takes Xerxes Avenue to 50th Street before heading west to France and heading to Southdale and the third takes Xerxes all the way to the mall.

Public opinion and data on the pros and cons of the Xerxes or France options seem evenly divided, according Kyle O’Donnell Burrows, project manager for the E Line. Current Route 6 ridership is slightly higher on Xerxes, where riders board evenly throughout the corridor, but France Avenue has major ridership hubs at stops like 50th and 44th Street.

“There’re really strong reasons to do both,” O’Donnell Burrows said.

The E Line is at an earlier stage in the planning process, with a construction target year of 2023, and no cost estimate until more about the route is set in stone.

Andrew Degerstrom, who is on the East Isles Transportation and Land Use Committee and said he rides both the 6 and 21 routes currently, believes BRT in the area could change how many locals get around. Fast and frequent transit in the walkable Uptown area could lead to fewer people needing to drive, he said.