When the state Legislature reached a deal on a $1.9 billion bonding bill, it marked a major victory for the future of transit in South Minneapolis.
The major infrastructure bill includes $55 million for two arterial bus rapid transit (BRT) projects. The B Line will connect a light-rail station near Bde Maka Ska to downtown St. Paul — running along Lake Street in Minneapolis and along Marshall and Selby avenues in St. Paul. The D Line will connect Brooklyn Center to the Mall of America — running along Fremont Avenue on the North Side and along Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis.
“We are thrilled,” Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle said.
The BRT routes will largely replace the two most-used Metro Transit bus lines in the state. The D Line will run where the current Route 5 does today, and the B Line will run most of the Route 21 path.
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.
Metro Transit currently has two arterial BRT lines: the A Line, which runs mostly on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, and the C Line, which connects Brooklyn Center to Downtown Minneapolis via Penn Avenue in North Minneapolis. Those routes have been successful at boosting trip speed, customer experience and ridership, Zelle said, and the Met Council sees BRT as the future of its transit system.
Zelle, who lives in Southwest Minneapolis and formerly served as commissioner of the state’s transportation department, said he believes there was an understanding among legislators that the B and D lines were critical to the Twin Cities. The B Line, he said, will be essential to revitalizing Lake Street after the area was devastated by civil unrest.
While the D Line is fully planned and will begin construction in 2021, there remain some final stop determinations for the B Line, Zelle said. Construction on the Lake Street line will likely begin in late 2021 or early 2022, with a goal of being operational by 2023.
The B Line will begin at the under-construction West Lake Street station of the Southwest Light Rail Transit project, enabling it to connect with the Green Line and serve Minneapolis residents along Lake Street west of Hennepin Avenue. Metro Transit is currently recommending Southwest stops at Dean Parkway, Knox Avenue, Hennepin Avenue, Lyndale Avenue, Nicollet Avenue and the under-construction Lake Street
Transit station at Interstate 35W. The line would cross the Mississippi River on Marshall Avenue before entering downtown St. Paul on Selby Avenue and ending at Union Station.
The B Line will be a major connection point in the Twin Cities rapid transit system. The Lake Street line will connect with the Green Line extension, the planned E Line at Hennepin Avenue, the Orange Line BRT on I-35W, the D Line at Chicago Avenue, the Blue Line at Hiawatha and the A Line on Snelling Avenue and meet with current and future transit lines at Union Station.
“Transit in the metro is not just about a line — it’s about an integrated system and these are big connecting pieces,” Zelle said.
Metro Transit launched the C Line in 2019 with a fleet of electric buses, and Zelle said the effort has been a success after resolving some early charging issues. It’s unclear if the B and D lines will be rolled out with electric buses, but Zelle believes those vehicles are the future of Metro Transit.