Metro Transit will run Hwy. 65 express bus service

Metro Transit will operate the Highway 65 express bus service three-year demonstration project in East Bethel, Ham Lake and Blaine.

The Anoka County Board, on the recommendation of its Transportation Committee, approved an interagency agreement with the Metropolitan Council Oct. 8

Through the agreement, the Metropolitan Council, of which Metro Transit is part, will purchase the seven coach-style buses that will be used for the project.

The county has received a $6,630,762 federal Congestion Mitigation Air Service grant and will put $1,642,478 of its own money into the project as a 20 percent match for a total cost of $8,212,391.

The morning and evening rush hour bus service, which will be an extension of Route 865, will start in northern East Bethel, travel south on Highway 65 through Ham Lake and Blaine, then head west on Highway 10 and TH 610 before going south on Highway 52 and east on I-94 into downtown Minneapolis.

Nine trips will be taken to and from Minneapolis during the rush hours.

According to Doug Fischer, county transportation division manager and highway engineer, the county did consider operating the service itself.

But because of Metro Transit’s experience in running transit services in the Twin Cities, both bus and rail, it was decided that it made more sense for Metro Transit to operate the bus service, Fischer said.

Metro Transit will own, operate and maintain the three park and ride lots where the buses will stop en route.

In East Bethel and Ham Lake, existing parking lots will be used.

The East Bethel park and ride lot will be leased from the East Bethel Theater, while in Ham Lake, the Family of Christ Lutheran Church parking lot will be leased, Fischer said.

A new park and ride lot will be built in Blaine on 6.68 acres of property at the southwest corner of Paul Parkway and Ulysses Street, just west of Highway 65.

Earlier this year, the Blaine City Council signed off on the park and ride project, despite concerns from neighboring residents about traffic congestion.

Initially, the Blaine park and ride lot, which will have 400 parking spaces, was scheduled for construction this year, but has now been put off until 2014, according to Fischer.

The park and ride leases and construction will come out of the project’s budget.

Plans are to begin the express bus service in August 2014 before the Minnesota State Fair opens and fall classes start at the University of Minnesota, Fischer said.

The buses will not be like Metro Transit buses, but be similar to over-the-road coaches, he said.

While Metro Transit will be operating the system, the county will be collaborating and monitoring ridership, Fischer said.

Before the three-year timeline of the demonstration project expires, Metro Transit and the county will evaluate how successful it has been, what changes should be made and whether it should continue as part of Metro Transit’s regular bus route and funded by it once the federal dollars run out, he said.

Peter Bodley is at
[email protected]