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Transit Solutions for 35W

I attended the public meeting and presentation yesterday regarding a proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) solution for 35W. I applaud the elected officials who have been working to include a transit solution for 35W. My main conern, which I shared with the group last night, is that BRT is being looked at as the sole transit option. Given the overwhelming success of the Hiawatha Light Rail line, it seems silly to exclude LRT as an option.

I have been doing research into the comparison, BRT vs. LRT, and the obvious difference is the lower initial capital cost. In a very interesting article (if you’re into this sort of thing) done by the GAO, entitled Bus Rapid Transit Systems Show Promise, they conclude that on average, there was lower capital costs for BRT. However, the costs can approach each other if BRT is constructed in their “best case” scenario. Which means basically constructing BRT to be as similar to an LRT system as possible.

The reason this is the best case, is because exclusive right of ways and rail like stations and schedules provide the best rider experience. The buses are allowed to move at the fastest speeds, because of the seperated roadway.

Unfortunately, this is not the design put forth by the consulting firm as their recommended proposal.

Another point that I made last night was that BRT could be designed and implemented as an interim step to a LRT line. Designed properly, stations and right of ways can be reused, and the ridership is already in place.

I think this represents our best option. Design the BRT with exclusive right of ways and limited entrances to the dedicated lanes. DO NOT allow other HOVs into these lanes, and design the stations and basic infrastructure in a way that would allow a smooth upgrade to LRT.

Quoting the GAO report:

Bus Rapid Transit also has the advantage of establishing a mass transit corridor and building ridership without precluding future changes. The development of a busway secures a transit right-of-way for the future. Some cities have identified Bus Rapid Transit as a means of building transit ridership in a travel corridor to the point where investment in a rail alternative becomes a cost-effective choice. For example, one of the projects in FTAs demonstration program, the Dulles Corridor Bus Rapid Transit project in Virginia, hopes to build transit ridership in this fashion.

I would argue that we already know that this corridor, which was described last night as “the most heavily traveled corridor in the state” already has the ridership to support the scalability of LRT service, but I understand completely that the funds for the capital investment that LRT would require here are not available.

So my hope is that 35W/62 reconfiguration will not, in the future, require another major redesign to support LRT. Even if we never got to LRT for this corridor, the BRT experience would be far better with a design that was as “rail-like” as possible.

So:

  1. Raise the gas tax. It’s at 20 cents right now, 10 more cents would raise approximately $320 million a year. (We should also tie gas tax revenues to transit solutions in some creative way.)
  2. Think about the 30 year future.

One more note, I brought up Denver’s T-REX project. They are doing a complete reconstruction of I-25, 19 new miles of LRT, something like 40 bridges, etc.

From start of construction to expected completion, 5 years. They received $525 Million from the federal government for the light rail construction. Total Cost, 1.67 Billion.

Staggering yes, but check out the site to get a feel for the scope of the project, and the forward-thinking leadership it took to do something like that.

We could do that in Minnesota too.

Categories: Transportation.