The Twin Cities region has been slow to establish transitways compared to peer cities. While there have been a few new transitways since our first major transit project was completed, the region has a long way to go and will likely need major funding changes for more routes to be completed and in a reasonable amount of time.
Major events such as another oil price spike and autonomous cars becoming proven technology will also impact the timeline of our transit expansion, for better or worse. More importantly however, the political and public will has to be there for transit expansion. Strong champions are needed if these predictions are to be met or exceeded.
How Far We’ve Come
2004-The Blue Line (back then known as the Hiawatha Line) light rail opened between Downtown Minneapolis and Mall of America. This was not only our first major transit project, but our first light rail line. It had been 50 years since our streetcar system was shut down.
2009-The Northstar Commuter Rail opened between Downtown Minneapolis and Big Lake, a half completed project originally intended to reach St. Cloud.
2013-The Red Line opened between the Mall of America and Apple Valley. Though marketed as bus rapid transit (BRT), it’s a stretch to call the Red Line that with its limited frequency and lack of dedicated roadway. Depending on who you ask this could be designated our first BRT route.
2014-The Green Line light rail opened between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It had been 60 years since the downtowns were connected by streetcar.
2016-The A Line, our first arterial bus rapid transit (ABRT) route, opened between South Minneapolis and Rosedale. ABRT having the high frequency and amenities of light rail, but operating entirely in mixed-traffic.
2019-The C Line ABRT will open between Downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center Transit Center.
The Near Term Official Timeline
Our transit system expansion going forward (assuming official start date projections are correct, though they haven’t been the most reliable):
2021-The Orange Line BRT will open between Downtown Minneapolis and Burnsville. The D Line ABRT will open between Mall of America and Brooklyn Center Transit Center via Downtown Minneapolis.
2022-At the earliest this is when the Northern Lights Express could open, which will establish intercity rail service between Minneapolis and Duluth. All that is needed to begin construction is funding from the federal government, and to a much lesser extent the state government. This is also the earliest a second daily Amtrak train between St. Paul and Chicago could open. While improved passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Chicago could’ve happened earlier thanks in part to federal funding during the Obama administration, Republicans including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker derailed those plans.
2023-The Green Line Extension (also known as Southwest LRT) will open between Downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. Depending on who you ask the battle will either have been won or lost.
2024-Two major projects will open; the Blue Line Extension (also known as Bottineau LRT) and the Gold Line BRT. These will operate between Downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park, and between Downtown St. Paul and Woodbury respectively. The Gold Line will be the first dedicated BRT service in the Twin Cities region (unless you count the University of Minnesota Transitway as dedicated BRT).
2028-The Rush Line (likely to be called the Purple Line) BRT will open between Downtown St. Paul and White Bear Lake.
2032-The Riverview Corridor, a light rail/streetcar hybrid, will open between Downtown St. Paul and Mall of America via MSP Airport. This will complete an “iron triangle” consisting of the Blue Line, Green Line, and Riverview Corridor connecting the downtowns, MSP Airport, and Mall of America.
Hopeful Predictions for the Near Term
2023-An Orange Line Extension further south into Burnsville (likely serving Burnsville Center) and potentially Lakeville, which is currently being studied, will open. The B Line, an ABRT service along Lake Street and Marshall Avenue between the western edge of Minneapolis and Snelling & University in St. Paul, will also open.
2024-The E Line will open. The exact routing is currently being studied, but it’s optimal it will operate between Southdale and the University of Minnesota’s Stadium Village area via Uptown and Downtown Minneapolis.
2025-The long sought after Northstar Line extension to St. Cloud will open.
From there an ABRT route or ABRT extension will open every 1 or 2 years. Optimally the Riverview Corridor study and construction timeline can be faster with an opening of 2030, since the current timeline is extremely long and could be easily shortened with less hoops to jump through from the federal government to receive funding from them (or better yet, not need funding from the federal government).
Predictions for the Far Term
In the 2030s there will be extensions of our BRT routes, several new ABRT routes, establishment of rapid transit (either BRT or LRT) along the I-394 Corridor, Midtown Greenway LRT, and one or two new commuter rail routes. Hopefully there will also be a third additional train between the Twin Cities and Chicago, and a second daily train between the Twin Cities and Grand Forks that could perhaps continue north to Winnipeg. Maybe, just maybe, an extension of the Riverview Corridor along I-494 between the Mall of America and Eden Prairie with an opening of 2040 at the earliest. Going into the 2040s the focus will be more on commuter rail and intercity rail routes with the modernization of our transit system in the urban area and parts of the suburban area mostly complete.
These predictions don’t include minor improvements to bus service, which are equally important for our transit system. Although a local bus being upgraded from a frequency of every 30 minutes to every 15 minutes won’t receive a ribbon cutting ceremony, it’s a small step in a big plan.
There will be quite a few route openings in the 2020s, but we’ll need to keep up that pace for at least a few decades if we want to stay competitive with other regions and reach climate goals. These predictions also assume autonomous cars won’t replace public transit like the transit skeptics dream of every night. Rather autonomous cars will be mostly used as part of car-sharing and ride-sharing services and last-mile solutions to/from transit stops.
Political and public willingness to fund our current transit system and fund expansion of our transit system are needed. With more people realizing the negatives of cars with traffic and hassles of car ownership and seeing the positives of transit expansion, the willingness to enact funding for transit is slowly shifting toward support.