Time for South County to get on the bus?


The Red Rock Corridor is a 30-mile transit way connecting the southeast suburbs to the Twin Cities along U.S. Highway 61. In 2007, the Red Rock Corridor Commission completed an alternatives analysis looking at potential transitway alternatives. At the end of that study, commuter rail was determined to be the long-term solution, with a short-term plan to increase ridership through express bus service.

It should be noted that commuter rail is not light rail. Commuter Rail only serves first-shift commuters, whereas light rail has all day service.

Several things have changed since the Red Rock alternatives analysis was completed in 2007. First, several corridors are up and running in the region that that allow us to evaluate their performances. The Northstar Commuter Rail, Cedar Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and Interstate 35W BRT have ridership data and operating costs to evaluate. In addition, we have 2010 Census data that captures the demographic and population changes along the corridor. Finally, the Metropolitcan Council has updated travel information to consider.

It is important that we make data-driven decisions. That is why the Red Rock Corridor is currently completing an alternatives analysis update. The study will look at the new data just mentioned, update current costs/data for commuter rail and gather new data on an additional transit mode: bus rapid transit.

Unfortunately, the original 2007 alternatives analysis did not investigate BRT. Bus rapid transit (BRT) is similar to Light Rail Transit (LRT) since BRT was designed to mimic LRT. BRT would provide all-day service to the community. This not only offers flexibility for commuters, but it also serves many recreation opportunities.

BRT also offers reverse commute opportunities for people who work to the south. Furthermore, BRT offers relief from planning a transit route. After a rider arrives, they wait no longer than 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the peak-off peak interval schedule, and the bus will arrive.

Finally, BRT vehicles are easily accessible. They are designed so riders enter on a level platform. In addition, the vehicle design includes wider entrances and depending on the size of the vehicle, multiple entrances for ease of boarding.
Basically, BRT is LRT but on tires instead of railroad tracks. The other major difference between the two modes is that BRT is typically half of the cost of LRT.

It is important to contrast BRT to the proposed commuter rail. The two services are completely different. Unlike BRT and LRT, commuter rail only runs a few times in the morning and evening to serve first-shift workers. It does not serve other lifestyle routines such as shopping or leisure trips to events because there is not a reverse trip or mid-day service for riders to return to their residence after such trips. Commuter rail is basically the same level of transit service that we currently have except on tracks instead of tires.

In 2007, commuter rail had an estimated cost of $366 million and would take decades to reach fruition. In the community, residents agreed that it was worth looking into a different solution that provides better transit service to the community, earlier, and at a reduced cost than the current proposal.

After the completion of the alternatives analysis update, the Red Rock Corridor Commission will be positioned to make data-driven decisions on transit improvements in the corridor. The study is anticipated to take about nine months. There will be multiple opportunities for public input including online surveys, workshops, a citizen advisory committee and on the Red Rock Corridor’s recently created Facebook page.

Please feel free to call or email anytime with your thoughts or concerns at [email protected] or 651-430-6214.

Washington County Commissioner Autumn Lehrke represents District 4, is vice-chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners and chairwoman of the Red Rock Corridor Commission.