The November launch of a new kind of bus transit on Cedar Avenue is looking less and less likely.
Dakota County commissioners heard Tuesday that some key elements of the bus-rapid transit (BRT) project — most notably, two of its five stations — will not be finished in time, probably pushing the full launch into 2013.
The busway from Apple Valley to Bloomington is meant to mimic light rail, with sleek buses running in dedicated shoulder lanes with regular stops at roadside stations.
The County Board, amid some contentious debate, stopped short of declaring a delay and urged its staff to get as much as possible done by November.
A STATION DILEMMA
Most pressing is construction of two "walk-up" stations in Apple Valley at 140th and 147th Streets, but there's disagreement on what they should look like.
Apple Valley city officials, who ultimately will need to issue building permits, want skyways connecting the platforms on either side of the road. The county and the Metropolitan Council have said there won't be enough ridership at first to justify that cost.
Even if everyone can promptly agree on design, it will be early 2013 before the stations are built.
MANY MOVING PIECES
The checklist of tasks related to Cedar Avenue is long and complicated.
County Transportation Director Mark Krebsbach said some of the details — signs, bus technology and driver training schedules — couldn't be pinned down until larger elements, including road construction and bus choices, were completed.
Road construction is expected to be mostly complete by November, but some landscaping work, including directional signs near stations, won't be in place until spring or summer 2013.
Buses have been ordered, but with a September delivery expected, timing is tight if a November launch is planned. Drivers need two to three months of training because the new buses will have new features, and drivers also must learn how to safely navigate tight shoulders.
And marketing the busway service is difficult to do unless there's a firm start date. Krebsbach suggested that a launch date of March to May 2013 is more realistic.
Board members anxious to see the busway come to fruition floated the idea of a soft launch in November, with service to the existing stations, just to show that two years of road construction will yield results.
But that sparked concerns about giving the public the impression of a half-finished product.
"We need to have a strong, positive opening," said Commissioner Nancy Schouweiler.