Construction on Snelling bus rapid transit stations progressing

Construction+on+the+corners+of+Snelling+and+Grand.+%0A%2APhoto+by+Heather+Johansen+%E2%80%9816.+%2A

Construction on the corners of Snelling and Grand. *Photo by Heather Johansen ‘16. *

Construction on the corners of Snelling and Grand.  *Photo by Heather Johansen ‘16. *
Construction on the corners of Snelling and Grand.
*Photo by Heather Johansen ‘16. *

The large dirt pits that made it difficult for pedestrians to navigate the intersection of Grand and Snelling this fall are filled in, at long last, but what was the purpose of this temporary inconvenience?

Metro Transit is in the middle of construction on the first-ever bus rapid transit (BRT) line in the Twin Cities, the A Line. The BRT concept is meant to provide faster, more train-like service (customers pay before boarding the bus, as with light rail) that is far cheaper and less disruptive than building a light rail or streetcar line.

The Snelling Avenue/Ford Parkway bus route was chosen in 2013 as our region’s first line, and funding for the $27 million project was quickly secured. Construction on the A Line began in July of this year, and is currently scheduled, according to Thomas Welna, the director of Macalester’s High Winds Fund, to wrap up sometime this coming spring.

Construction near Mac should be finished soon.

“They are just about done with the stations at the intersection of [Snelling] and Grand, and they still have the stations to do at St. Clair and Snelling,” Welna said.

“The idea is to have is to have [the A Line] running by the late winter to early spring of 2016, and it’s going to be a great thing for Mac students, staff, faculty and our neighbors,” Welna said.

Welna is excited about the utility this new transit connection will afford.

“We are quickly and easily connected to both light rail lines, both downtowns and more, which were all really time consuming trips in the past. With the new bus rapid transit and light rail, they’re pretty quick and easy trips by comparison to a decade or 30 years ago when I was a Mac student,” Welna said.

The Mac community has enjoyed other improved transit connections recently that are more subtle, but still impactful.

“The 63 line used to turn around at St. Thomas, but has run to Raymond Avenue light rail station since last year,” Welna said.

“Between Hour Car, BRT, and our Nice Ride hub, we have had a lot of success in getting members of the Mac community options to get around quicker and better,” Welna said.

The A Line will, for all intents and purposes, take the place of the current 84 system and will certainly be an improvement over the status quo. The BRT buses will travel from Rosedale to the 46th Street Station, just as the 84 does now, but is projected to take about 25-30 percent less time than the current system.

In addition to pre-boarding ticket purchasing/pass swiping, the addition of traffic signal priority will speed BRT buses along even faster. Signal priority means that buses will have the ability to ask for early or extended green lights, and traffic lights will determine whether to give the bus the extra time.

Time will be further reduced by an overall reduction in the number of physical stations. The A Line will have 20 stations about a half-mile apart, which will serve the sites and stations with the current highest ridership. In fact, 75 percent of all riders board at these 20 stations, so overall service will be largely affected, and service on evenings and weekends will be expanded.

Service to the other neighborhood stations will not completely disappear, however–the local 84 will operate every 30 minutes and make off-corridor branch connections to St. Paul Avenue, West 7th Street and Davern Street.

Efficient service is not the only thing the A Line will offer to riders. The A Line stations will be generally larger, depending on station importance, and have enhanced features. All stations will boast interior lights and heaters, and a pylon marker with a digital NexTrip display that will show the next scheduled bus, just as the displays at all light rail stations do. Ticket vending machines will also be included at each station, again, as the system functions at light rail stations currently.

Some stations will also have raised curbs for easier boarding, and all will have a textured metal warning strip nearest the curb to keep passengers at a safe distance from the street, while some stations will even have benches. A last key feature is the presence of bike parking loops at every station.

The A Line’s exact schedule has not yet been released, but will run every ten minutes with trips beginning at 4:00 a.m. and continuing until 1:00 a.m. In addition to Mac’s northbound and southbound stations at Snelling and Grand, Mac will be near the stations at Snelling and St. Clair to the south. The nearest A Line stations to the north will be at Snelling and Dayton.