Agreements for Hwy. 65 bus service park-and-rides

Lease agreements for two of the three park-and-rides that will serve the Highway 65 express commuter transit service, a three-year demonstration project that is scheduled to start in late August, have been approved by the Anoka County Board.

One lease is to use the Muller Family Theatres’ parking lot at 18635 Ulyssses St. NE, East Bethel, and the other is to have a park-and-ride at the Family of Christ Lutheran Church parking lot, 16345 Polk St. NE, Ham Lake.

The East Bethel lot will provide 50 stalls Monday through Friday, while the Ham Lake park-and-ride lot will offer 50-75 stalls Monday through Friday. Maintenance will be provided by both property owners, and they will each be paid $5,000 annually for the use.

The county is about to go out for bids for construction of the third park-and-ride lot to be located in Blaine for the express bus route from East Bethel to downtown Minneapolis, according to Doug Fischer, county division manager for transportation and county highway engineer.

It will be built on 6.68 acres of property at the southwest corner of Paul Parkway and Ulysses Street just west of Highway 65. Construction will be completed before the bus service’s scheduled opening, Fischer said.

For the express bus service during morning and evening rush hours, the county has received a $6.63 million federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant and will contribute $1.64 million of its own dollars for a 20 percent match.

That money has been budgeted by the county, Fischer said.

The grant and the county dollars are paying not only for the bus service itself, which will be owned and operated by Metro Transit under an interagency agreement approved by the county board in October 2013, but also the two park-and-ride lease agreements, the park-and-ride lot construction in Blaine and the purchase of the coach-style buses. Seven coach-style buses, similar to over-the-road coaches, have been ordered, according to Fischer.

“The tentative opening of the bus service is right before the Minnesota State Fair at the end of August,” Fischer said.

The service, an extension of Metro Transit Route 865, will start in East Bethel at the park-and-ride, travel south on Highway 65 through Ham Lake and Blaine, then head west on Highway 10 and Highway 610 before going south on Highway 52 and east on Interstate 94 into downtown Minneapolis.

According to Fischer, buses will drop passengers off at the Target Field transit hub, where people can access other transit services, like light rail or other bus routes, if they need to.

Nine trips will be scheduled to and from Minneapolis during the morning and evening rush hours.

While Metro Transit will be operating the bus service, the county will be monitoring ridership. Before the three-year timeline of the demonstration project ends and the federal grant runs out, the county and Metro Transit will evaluate how successful the project has been and whether it should become part of Metro Transit’s bus system and be funded by that agency.