Bill Seeks OK to Expand Bus Shoulder Lanes

Buses zip along the shoulder on freeways across the metro area, and they'll need to do the same for bus rapid transit to work along Cedar Avenue in Apple Valley and Lakeville.

A bill working its way through the Legislature will allow just that, giving Dakota County the authority to establish a bus-only shoulder on a county road, in this case, Cedar Avenue south of McAndrews Road. The bill also would clear the way to increase the speeds buses are allowed to travel on the shoulders, currently capped at 35 miles per hour.

"We need to be able to use the shoulders," Sen. Chris Gerlach, the Apple Valley Republican who authored the bill, said in a committee hearing. "This is expanded authority. It'll help not just the Cedar Avenue bus transit, but it will be [for] other transit lines in Minnesota as well."

The proposal falls in line with the Minnesota Department of Transportation's shift from building more lanes to squeezing more capacity out of existing roads.

Minnesota already has about 300 miles of bus-only shoulder lanes, mostly along state and interstate highways.

Road construction began this spring on the southernmost section of the Cedar Avenue busway, which will be open for service in 2012.

Cedar Avenue is often billed as the first station-to-station bus rapid transit corridor in the metro area. Meant to mimic light rail at much less cost, the corridor from Lakeville to the Mall of America will feature buses rolling along in designated shoulder lanes between stations.

The legislative effort would also make it possible for buses to go faster on the shoulder, raising the speed limit above the current 35 mile-per-hour cap.

To do so, local officials and transit agencies would have to first conduct a study and make recommendations to the transportation commissioner, who would have the final say.

That approach is similar to the way speed limits are set for all roads, said Mark Krebsbach, Dakota County's transportation director.

Cedar Avenue's regular speed limit varies, from 65 miles per hour in the freeway zones to 45 miles per hour through Apple Valley.

Krebsbach said the county will examine speeds for all lanes along Cedar as the transitway opens, taking into account the increasing emphasis on pedestrian traffic. Figuring out the appropriate speed for the shoulder bus lanes is part of that.

"The bottom line is we want it to work safely," he said.

Katie Humphrey - 952-882-9056

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