University area transit will see improvements

by Robin Huiras

Twin Cities residents who depend on public transportation will find daily commutes quicker and easier with the help of millions of dollars from the federal government.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Tuesday a $7.74 million appropriation for Metro Transit. The federal funding will improve the conditions and facilities along the Central Corridor, which intersects the University while linking downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul.
Approximately 13 percent of the University’s population — roughly 6,500 commuters — use public transit every day.
Four new bus shelters will be built on campus in the first phase of the project, said Congressman Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., a member of the transportation subcommittee of the Federal Appropriations Committee. Additionally, Washington and University avenues will see improved lighting.
“The bus shelters are clearly something we need in winter in Minnesota,” said Sabo, a key figure in getting the bill passed through Congress.
Within the University there definitely is a need for lighting and shelter improvements, said Roger Huss, assistant director of transportation.
“I think they’re using (the money) wisely, to expand on those items as much as possible,” Huss added.
The highway upgrades include bus stop lighting improvements along the 12 mile corridor and expansion of Interstate Highway 94 to allow for bus-only shoulder lanes, said Bob Gibbons, director of customer services for Metro Transit.
Two phases of improvements will absorb the money. The projects in the first phase have already been approved; additional upgrades are waiting for further allocations.
“The whole $7.7 million has to be assigned to projects by the end of the year 2000,” Gibbons said.
Phase one expansion of east I-94 near Pascal Avenue in St. Paul is already in progress. A bus-only access lane to the highway will give priority to transit users on one of the most important transit corridors in the metro region.
“Thinking smarter about mobility is the answer,” Gibbons said. “We’re making (public) transit more attractive.”
The phase one shelters on campus will be located on the East and West banks, while two additional enclosed waiting areas will be built on both sides of Washington Avenue in front of Coffman Union during the second phase.
While every bus stop in the Twin Cities could use better lighting, Huss said, better lights along the Washington Avenue corridor is a huge priority.
The money comes to the Twin Cities at a time when ridership is up 6 percent from last year and options for additional road construction are limited. Within the next 20 years the Twin Cities will see less than 20 miles of new highway as compared to upwards of 200 miles throughout the past 20 years.
“It will help us build on our success,” Gibbons said. “The Twin Cities has an increasing congestion problem and we will not build our way out of congestion.”