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Buses instead of trains to serve east metro transit corridor

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Transportation planners have decided to develop a bus rapid transit system to serve the eastern Twin Cities metro area rather than light rail trains, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

The so-called Gateway Corridor, which would be served by the new transit system, extends from downtown St. Paul along Interstate 94 east to the St. Croix River bridge, which connects to western Wisconsin.

Nearly 65,000 people live within one mile of the Gateway Corridor right now, according to transportation officials. Traffic on I-94 is already congested. By 2030, the population is expected to grow by nearly 40 percent, and there are very few transportation options for residents and workers in that area besides personal vehicles, according to the Gateway Corridor Commission.

The commission has been studying various transit options for the past few years, and last week determined that bus rapid transit would be more effective and less expensive than building a light rail line, based on various studies as well as input from communities along the way. The bus rapid transit system is expected to cost about $400 million, compared to $900 million for light rail service, the Pioneer Press notes.

Bus rapid transit, or BRT, is sort of a hybrid between traditional bus service and train service, in that the buses often run as frequently as trains -- say every 10-15 minutes -- and generally have fewer stops than regular transit buses.

Metro Transit already operates a BRT line, called the Red Line, which runs along Cedar Avenue between Apple Valley and the Mall of America. It opened about a year ago. Another BRT line is being planned to open next year along Snelling Avenue in St. Paul.

The Gateway BRT would involve building dedicated roads for the buses, which other vehicles would not be allowed to use. The current proposal calls for 11 stops along the route, which would most likely be located along frontage roads adjacent to I-94, according to the Pioneer Press.

The next step in the process is for the commission to approve the route for the bus service. Local governments along the route will have a chance to weigh in, and a draft environmental impact study is also underway and will likely be completed next year, according to the Commission.

If there are no major snags in the process, the Gateway BRT service could begin by 2022.

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