New Highway 65 express bus route set to start Monday

Cheryl Portesan is thrilled about the new Route 865 that will take some commuters off Highway 65 and onto buses even though she anticipates her commute time will be similar.

Anoka County and Metro Transit are waiting to see how many people are as excited as Portesan and willing to pay $3 going each way to try the new weekday express bus service to and from downtown Minneapolis that starts service Monday, Aug. 25. It will last at least three years before the government agencies evaluate whether it is a success or failure.

Bus schedule courtesy of Metro Transit
Bus schedule courtesy of Metro Transit

Anoka County received a $6.63 million federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant to cover 80 percent of the up-front and three-year maintenance and operational costs. The Anoka County Highway Department is chipping in $1.64 million from its own budget to provide a 20 percent match.

“It’s wonderful for the residents of Anoka County because it provides another good option of traveling down Highway 65 to and from downtown Minneapolis,” said Jack Forslund, transportation planning manager for Anoka County.

It will make nine daily trips to and from a new park and ride lot in Blaine at the southwest corner of Paul Parkway and Ulysses Street. The earliest bus leaves at 5:49 a.m. and the last bus to downtown leaves Blaine at 8:06 a.m.

There will also be three stops at the Muller Family Theater in East Bethel and Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Ham Lake. Both locations are receiving $5,000 a year for permission to use 50 stalls in each location.

Anoka County hired Forest Lake Contracting for $1.35 million to construct the 400-space Blaine park and ride lot that the finishing touches are still being put on.

“Because this is a new market, ridership is difficult to project,” said Drew Kerr, Metro Transit spokesperson. “The park and rides that will be served by this new route are a good indication of the type of demand we believe exists in this market.”

Kerr said the expectation is that the Blaine park and ride lot will primarily draw commuters from western Blaine and Coon Rapids who are not currently driving to the park and ride lot off I-35W and 95th Avenue in Blaine or at the 9425 Foley Blvd. park and ride lot in Coon Rapids.

It currently takes Portesan 25 to 30 minutes to get from her Andover home to the Foley Boulevard bus stop in Coon Rapids. She thinks it will be much easier driving east to Blaine and taking the new bus route that will travel on bus-only shoulders on Highway 65, Highway 10, Highway 610, Highway 252 and on I-94 East.

For Portesan, she loves the thought of less time driving and more time on the bus, especially because she will be sitting in a cushy coach bus seat rather than a hard plastic bus seat.

“Being on the bus longer is fine with me because I like to play with my iPad,” she said.

Portesan was crossing her fingers for bike lockers at the Blaine park and ride so she could ride her bike to the station and leave it behind, but Kerr said there will be no bike lockers at any of the three stops. The coach buses do have space for bikes, however.

There will be no Wi-Fi on the bus, so devices will have to be able to connect to the Internet independently.

The first morning stop in downtown Minneapolis at the corner of Fourth Street North and Hennepin Avenue is just one block away from the light rail line so you could connect with Metro Transit’s Blue or Green lines.

The earliest an afternoon rush hour bus leaves downtown Minneapolis from the first stop at Second Avenue South and 11th Street South is 3:08 p.m. and the latest departure time is 6:22 p.m.

No service is available on weekends or on holidays.

Some neighbors had expressed concern last year about the additional traffic and safety at the intersection of Ulysses Street and Paul Parkway, which has a four-way stop. City Engineer Jean Keeley said Blaine will continue to monitor traffic statistics to see if a traffic signal is warranted, but for now there will only be the stop signs.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]