Transit study receives mixed reception
A preliminary eastern Dakota County transit study received a lukewarm reception at a county board meeting on Tuesday.
The study's draft included eight different potential transit options — three of which focused on Hastings. Eastern Dakota County and Hastings in particular have long lacked transit options due to lower population and job densities, compared to the western half of the county, said Joe Morneau, a senior transportation specialist with the county.
"Looking at the traditional service on the peripheral part of the suburbs or Hastings as well is going to be pretty tough," he said. "There's not no chance of success ... but we recognize the challenge. We're careful moving forward."
The study, which began in July 2018, identified West St. Paul, South St. Paul, Hastings, and the western quarter of Rosemount as the areas most fit for transit options. It used demographic data, employment and population density data and others to determine areas of need.
County staff will now share the study with city councils and transit providers Metro Transit and Minnesota Valley Transit Authority for consideration, Morneau said.
"My hope is that a few of these merit some further consideration," he said.
Hastings is not part of the Met Council's transit tax district, which further complicates things for the city and will draw out implementation of any option, he said. All of the other study's cities are included in it already and get increased transit services due to it.
"There are a few options and that the process to get there might be a little bit longer because of the feasibility of it, there's the politics side of it [too]," Morneau said.
The city is holding a presentation in August on the study, said Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik. That will provide more clarity on the potential for transit options to come to the city, he said.
"Some of [the options] probably don't go very far without being on a level playing field of the transit tax," Slavik said.
The county is still trying to determine what its role should be in eastern transit options and would like to see more focus on east-west options, he said.
Currently, the county is funding a one-year pilot to Dakota County Technical College, and will potentially present that as an option to a permanent provider if the data supports its need, Slavik said. That could be a path for some of the study's routes as well.
At the County Board meeting, commissioners cautioned that the study's various options could be misinterpreted as a county guarantee of support.
Commissioner Mary Holberg questioned the move to take the study to city councils and present the appearance of a county promise for funding. Discussion of the Hastings-only transit option could lead to other communities looking for similar options, she said.
"A lot of this is very premature and what's there in terms of density or ridership, I just don't want them to get a bunch of false hope," she said during the committee meeting. "I would just caution that if you do decide to do these presentations ... that there's no commitment."
Slavik also critiqued one of the Hastings options as not doing enough to address the presence of commuters on the west end, at the meeting.
"The fact of taking 10 minutes to get across town ... they just as well stay in their car," he said.
The preliminary Hastings options detailed included:
• A commuter express route that starts in Depot Park in Hastings and ends in downtown Minneapolis, with a stop in Newport's Park-and-Ride along the way
• A Hastings to Cottage Grove connection on U.S. Highway 61
• An all day, entirely in-city route
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the time frame and nature of a Hastings city meeting on the Dakota County transit study planned for August.