MN: Sartell, Waite Park Needs Keep Bus Route Expansion Talks Moving

Jan. 28--Looking to better serve its core users, Metro Bus is working to expand routes in Sartell and Waite Park.

The expansions will target new apartment complexes in Sartell and the transit-reliant community of Bel Clare Acres mobile home park. The route expansions are part of an effort to keep up with Sartell's rapid growth and serve residents of the mobile home park who need access to businesses and services in the city.

The route expansions still need approval from the Metro Bus Board of Commissioners, but they could start as early as this spring.

The Bel Clare Acres extension, which would include longer service hours and weekend rides, would cost Metro Bus an additional $150,000 a year. Minnesota Department of Transportation will cover 80 percent of those costs, with the rest coming from Stearns County, Tri-County Action Program and Metro Bus.

The expanded Sartell service would cost about $247,000 more per year. MnDOT will cover about 80 percent of those costs.

The Metro Bus 2014 operating budget is $10.2 million.

Changing community

Since the Sartell bus route started in 2002, it has changed six times, far more than any other route. The route changes are in response to the quick development of the city.

The expansion will affect Route 31, which goes from downtown St. Cloud to Wal-Mart in Sartell. If approved, the route will extend to Heritage Drive and Roberts Road.

The changes will bring service to residents living in a number of apartment complexes in that area, said Tom Cruikshank, Metro Bus director of planning and marketing.

Coming up with a route has been a challenge. The apartment complexes aren't built on the main roads, and there isn't always a good sidewalk system to connect those buildings to bus stops.

Having buses go directly to the apartments on the side streets would make the route take longer.

"We don't want people to feel like they're on the bus for a long time," Cruikshank said.

Sartell City Council member Amy Braig-Lindstrom is Sartell's representative to the Metro Bus board. For her, the exciting part of the route extension is that it would reduce how long riders have to wait for a connection at Wal-Mart.

Right now if someone is coming from St. Cloud and wants to get to Sartell, they have to wait a half hour at Wal-Mart to transfer, she said. Under the proposed changes, they would only wait 10 minutes.

"That's huge," she said.

Bringing service farther into the city near the apartment complexes is also moving in the right direction, Braig-Lindstrom said.

"It's a beginning," she said.

Bel Clare Acres

Bringing service to Bel Clare Acres mobile home park has been a priority for a number of years. Surveys have shown that the residents rely heavily on public transportation, Cruikshank said.

Some residents will take the bus to Prosper Drive, the most western stop, then walk or bike the two miles to the mobile home park, he said.

The proposed Route 34 would take the bus past the Stearns County Service Center to Bel Clare Acres then loop to the Wal-Mart on 33rd Avenue South.

The route will go to Crossroads Center, where riders can transfer onto other routes. That's an important element to the route for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota Executive Director Mark Sakry said there are pockets of poverty in the community, and transportation services need to reach those communities.

In the past, the Boys & Girls Clubs have brought programming to the mobile home park, such as arts and outdoor activities. But Sakry said it is much more efficient to have the kids come to the Roosevelt club, where they can get a meal and participate in a number of activities.

The club could provide bus passes to students who want to come to the club from Bel Clare Acres. That's more cost effective than bringing programs to the mobile home park, he said.

"It saves us some money and reaches out to more people who need us," Sakry said.

Copyright 2014 - St. Cloud Times, Minn.

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