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Rochester City Council votes in favor of a Bus Rapid Transit system

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — On Friday, Rochester Mayor and Destination Medical Center Corporation (DMCC) board member, Kim Norton, voted against the rest of the board on a resolution for a new transportation plan involving a “Circulator.” This marked the first time any DMCC board member voted against a written resolution.

Bus Rapid Transit approved by Rochester City Council
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton talking to KTTC about why she opposes the “Bus Rapid Transit” or BRT.

At Monday night’s Rochester City Council meeting, the council had the option to confirm the board’s recommendation or reject it. The system the DMCC board recommended and voted in favor of, which is a “Bus Rapid Transit” (BRT) system.

The proposed BRT system would be similar to what you see in the Twin Cities, but instead of a fixed rail system, this version would involved electric buses. The process also involves shutting down a traffic lane, to dedicate it to this bus system.

At Monday’s council meeting, the DMCC recommended Bus Rapid Transit system was approved in a 6-1 vote, with council member Shaun Palmer as the only no.

Bus Rapid Transit approved by Rochester City Council
Graham Park is proposed to be one of the “Transit Villages,” which is where the BRT would start/end.

Not to the liking of Mayor Kim Norton, who insists this wasn’t what they planned for or envisioned when she got funding from the state to help get Destination Medical Center off the ground. Rather Mayor Norton, has been in favor of a fixed rail system, which she says is more conducive to a city of Rochester’s size.

“I think many of the city council and others are enamored with this BRT, Bus Rapid Transit, and have sort of pushed aside this concept of an elevated rail, or an underground rail, or even a street level rail. They have kind of pushed that aside and I have grave concerns about closing off a lane of traffic,” said Mayor Norton, before the council elected to proceed with the BRT.

Bus Rapid Transit approved by Rochester City Council
2nd Street SW by Cascade Lake, which is a proposed site for a “Transit Village,” which is where the BRT would start/end.

The proposed project would run from the Graham Park area, up Broadway Avenue, until it the road gets to 2nd Street SW, where it would then follow the street past Saint Marys, and out to the Cascade Lake area.

DMCC Director of Economic Development Patrick Seeb told KTTC the BRT is a much more affordable solution, costing at the most $200M. Mayor Norton says from the studies done, an onground rail system would cost about 2.5 times the final BRT amount, but would be a more prudent system for the long term.

Seeb continued by saying choosing the BRT helps place Rochester in a position to receive about half of the funding needed for the project from the federal government.

Bus Rapid Transit approved by Rochester City Council
DMC Economic Development and Placemaking Director, Patrick Seeb talks to KTTC about DMCC’s decision to recommend BRT.

“What we landed on a recommendation is that we can create the very highly amenitized system, but using electric bus vehicles, rather than rail. The important distinction is that the bus type vehicles are far less expensive than a fixed rail system,” explained Seeb.

But now that the council has voted in favor of the Bus Rapid Transit, its next target date is September 2020 when it can submit its work to the Federal Transit Administration. If all goes accordingly the expected earliest opening of this system is March of 2025.

Speaking at Monday’s City Council meeting, Assistant City Administrator II, Aaron Parrish said he believes the current plan would also provide room for flexibility in the future, which could include a rail system at some point.

Holden Krusemark

Holden Krusemark

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