By Barb Thoman, Executive Director
In the Twin Cities metro area, six transit projects totaling $36 million are vying for $20 million in available federal funding.
The federal CMAQ program funds projects that reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. Dollars are allocated through the Metropolitan Council and its Transportation Advisory Board (TAB).
The first three projects listed here received the highest rating in the initial scoring process:
1. Improved bus stations at Lake Street and Interstate 35W to replace the dismal facilities there today. The project would improve facilities for local bus passengers on Lake Street and for express bus passengers connecting at I-35W and Lake Street. Over 30 bus routes connect to these stations. The grant request from Metro Transit is $7 million of a $41 million project cost. The project is estimated to increase use of the I-35W/Lake Street stations by 1,100 riders per day.
Credit: Metro Transit
2. Mall of America Transit Station Renovation and Expansion. This project would improve the Mall of America Transit Station by expanding the facility to serve more bus routes, reconfiguring the site so buses don’t cross the light rail tracks, and improving safety and access for passengers. The grant request is $7 million of a $21 million project cost. Operational savings from the project are estimated to be $1 million annually. The project is estimated to increase use of the MOA station by 1,100 riders per day.
3. Construction of B-Line Bus Rapid Transit from Union Depot in Saint Paul along West 7th Street to the MSP Airport and Mall of America. The project would improve passenger waiting, speed up passenger boarding, provide real-time trip information, and include other improvements. The grant request from Metro Transit is $7 million of a $14 million total project cost. The project is expected to increase ridership by 1,700 riders per day.
Credit: Metro Transit
4. New Southwest LRT Park-and-Ride and Public Plaza. This project includes a new parking structure for 240 vehicles and a new public plaza in Hopkins at Excelsior Boulevard and 8th Avenue serving the Southwest light rail line. The grant request from City of Hopkins is $7 million of a $12.2 million project cost. Service is estimated to serve 234 new daily riders.
5. Bus Service Expansion in Shakopee, Prior Lake, and Scott County. Funding would be used to purchase four buses for a new community-run bus service to connect with Southwest light rail, which is scheduled to open in 2019. The grant request from this city/county proposal is $0.96 million of a $1.2 million project cost. Service is estimated to serve 750 new daily riders.
6. Improvements to Cedar Grove Transit Station. This project would change the configuration of this bus station and add an enclosed walkway to provide a direct bus and passenger connection on Cedar Avenue/Highway 77 in Eagan. The improvements would reduce the travel time on each bus route by 10 minutes and reduce operating needs by one bus per day. The grant request from Metro Transit is $7 million of a $15 million total project cost. Operational savings from the project are estimated to be $400,000 annually. The project is estimated to increase use of the Cedar Grove Station by 150 new riders per day.
Our take: The project implementation year for this round of funding is 2017. With that in mind, TLC would prioritize projects that can be implemented in 2017 or before. Since Southwest LRT will not open until at least 2019, the two corresponding projects (#4 and #5 above) can be considered in the next solicitation. We applaud the Council/TAB for identifying equity considerations as it develops funding recommendations. We continue to be concerned about the need for improved shelters and signage on the bus system as a whole.
While receiving CMAQ funding will be a win for any of the projects on this list, we have to lament that so little funding is available for transit expansion. That is why we are strong supporters of Move MN. We also believe that since the Lake Street station on I-35W increases the capacity of the highway, more of this project should be funded with state and federal highway dollars.
The Transportation Advisory Board will make its CMAQ funding recommendation on May 21 and the Metropolitan Council will act on the recommendation on June 11. Stay tuned.