Construction on the 17-mile Orange Line bus rapid transit project is accelerating this summer, following award of the final construction contract and the imminent mobilization of station contractors.
When it opens late next year, the METRO Orange Line will provide frequent, all-day service between Minneapolis, Richfield, Bloomington, and Burnsville along I-35W in both directions. Innovations include a new bus-only access ramp into and out of downtown Minneapolis at 12th Street, a median station at Lake Street, and the Knox Avenue transitway under I-494 that will include a multi-use trail for bicyclists and pedestrians.
“Bus rapid transit has proven very popular with riders in our region,” said Charlie Zelle, Met Council Chair. “The Orange Line will offer major time-saving advantages for transit riders in the I-35W corridor, especially throughout the day. And the new option for reverse-commuters to the suburbs will open up new employment opportunities for Minneapolis residents.”
A trip south from downtown to Burnsville
In downtown Minneapolis, the Orange Line will use the existing transit-only lanes and bus stops on Marquette and Second Avenues. Ticket machines, Go-To Card validators, stations markers, and additional signage will be integrated at existing stations.
Orange Line buses traveling south on I-35W from downtown will stop at stations in the center of the freeway at Lake and 46th streets, then continue to 66th Street where a station will be located on the southbound on-ramp to the freeway. Buses will continue south to 76th Street where they will exit and take a jog west to travel south on Knox Avenue. The underpass connects stations at 76th Street and American Boulevard. Buses get back on I-35W at 82nd Street.
The final three stations along the route are at 98th Street in Bloomington, and Heart of the City and Burnsville Parkway in Burnsville.
Knox Avenue transitway beginning to take shape
Travelers in the area of I-35W and I-494 are observing changes as construction of the Knox Avenue transitway continues. Following surveying and relocation of utilities, contractors began heavy construction including excavation, wall construction and pile driving. This year, the northern half of the new underpass will be completed.
The Knox Avenue Transitway will cut in half the current travel time of existing express route 535 between the I-35W and 98th Street entrance and the 66th Street Station. In addition, the trail will provide a safe crossing under I-494 for bicyclists and pedestrians, so they don’t have to traverse busy streets crossing over the freeway.
Getting into and out of downtown more quickly
The Minnesota Department of Transportation built the Orange Line’s transit-only access ramp to I-35W from downtown Minneapolis in conjunction with their massive reconstruction of the area where I-35W and I-94 come together just south of downtown. The new access ramp will allow 700 buses to avoid congestion entering and exiting downtown each weekday and connect directly to the MnPASS lanes on I-35W.
Another big enhancement for riders is a new, two-story transit station located between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-35W above Lake Street. This station will allow customers to board both Orange Line and I-35W express bus routes on the freeway level, and will provide easy connections to Lake Street, local bus routes, and the Midtown Greenway. The entire station will be ADA accessible and provide a significant upgrade in comfort and safety over existing bus stops.
What’s ahead for the Orange Line
Once construction of the transitway and all stations is complete in 2021, service testing will begin. Passenger service is expected to open by the end of 2021. Buses are expected to run every 10 minutes during peak commuting times and every 15 minutes during other parts of the day.
The $150.7 million project is being funded by the former Counties Transit Improvement Board, Hennepin and Dakota counties, the State of Minnesota, the Metropolitan Council, and the Federal Transit Administration, which provided a $74.1 million grant in 2019.
Orange Line Project information