Transportation Planning Casebook/Gateway Corridor: LRT v. Freeway BRT

Summary edit

The Gateway Corridor Commission was established in 2009 and proposed an initiative to address the transit issue between west-central Wisconsin and the downtown areas of St. Paul and Minneapolis Minnesota. The commission is composed of local elected officials and community leaders who are working with residents, businesses and travelers to provide new transit options. The proposed route of a bus rapid transit (BRT) or light rail transit (LRT) system briefly show what the eastern metro and west Wisconsin could see in the near future. The goals associated with this project are increased mobility, provide a cost effective, economically viable transit option, support economic development, protect the natural environment feature of the corridor, preserve and protect individual community quality of life and improve safety[1].


Background edit

BRT edit


Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a flexible, rubber-tired rapid transit mode that combines stations, vehicles, services, running way, and Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) elements into an integrated system with a strong positive image and identity. BRT applications are designed to be appropriate to the market they serve and their physical surroundings and can be incrementally implemented in a variety of environments. In brief, BRT is a permanently integrated system of facilities, services, and amenities that collectively improve the speed, reliability, and identity of bus transit. In many respects, BRT is rubber-tired light rail transit (LRT), but with greater operating flexibility and potentially lower capital and operating costs[2].


BRT, as an idea has existed since the 1930s, and has been proposed for numerous settings throughout the U.S. and the world[3]. In the U.S. the first BRT system was proposed for Chicago in 1937. The plan recommended adapting existing rail rapid transit systems for use as an express bus operation with downtown distribution points[4]. Several plans followed, including Washington D.C., St. Louis, Missouri, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin[5]. Recently, BRT has expanded rapidly. In 2005 between 50 and 75 communities across the nation had a BRT project in development stages or deployed. In fact, nearly every transit project seeking federal funding includes a BRT alternative[6].

LRT edit

Definition & History

The emergence of light rail transit was based on objectives including reducing car use, congestion and negative environmental externality. At the same time, based on transit-oriented urban planning theory and practice, most of light rail systems are expected to stimulate development along LRT corridors [7]. The term of “Light Rail Transit” was used in early 1970 in the United States, but it wasn't formally defined by Transit Research Board until 1989. According to Urban Public Transportation Glossary: “A metropolitan electric railway system characterized by its ability to operate single cars or short trains along exclusive rights-of-way at ground level, on aerial structures, in subways, or occasionally, in streets and to board and discharge passengers at track or car floor level.” The modern light rail transit network integrates transit priority traffic signals and a connection of more than one light rail vehicle which generally run in a dedicated rail lane alongside auto lanes or bike lanes. In 1978, the first LRT in North America was built in the city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In 1981, San Diego adopted LRT as an American LRT pioneer. Some scholars contend light rail transit was introduced to previously all-bus cities to approach the same service provided by rapid transit at an affordable cost. Some famous LRT practices include those in Portland, Oregon; Calgary, Alberta; San Francisco, California; Houston, Texas and Charlotte, North Carolina. Many Scholars agree that light rail transit system is central backbone of integrating regional transit network. However, some someone argues that although light rail transit was viewed as a solution to great expense of heavy rail, there was no successful practice of LRT on the criteria like reducing car use, which raised doubts of variability of LRT.

Bases of Comparison

As referred above, the early emergence of LRT was driven by objectives including reducing cars, road congestion and environmental externality. In order to satisfy these objectives, in this case study, comparative analysis of LRT and BRT will be conducted based off criterions including: Cost of alternatives, effectiveness of attractive (patronage from car users) and impact on land-use and stimulation of environmental protection.

Annotated List of Actors edit

  • United States Department of Transportation: If the Gateway Corridor project is approved, the US-DOT will match all local funding for the project. This funding is contingent on the Gateway Corridor meeting all of the US-DOT regulatory requirements.
  • Federal Transit Authority: The Gateway Corridor project must meet the FTA's requirements in order to get approval. This involves creating a DEIS and conducting a study that examines the effects of the project on at-risk populations.
  • Minnesota Department of Transportation: The primary managing body for the section of the corridor operating in Minnesota, working in close conjunction with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
  • Wisconsin Department of Transportation: The primary managing body for the Wisconsin section of the corridor, working in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
  • Metropolitan Council: The Twin-Cities regional planning and management body that has a say in almost any public transportation project being planned in the Twin-Cities metropolitan area.
  • Cities of St. Paul, Maplewood, Woodbury, Lake Elmo, Afton, Oakdale, Lakeland, and West Lake Township: The Gateway Corridor, regardless of what mode is chosen, will likely start at Union Depot in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota and will be located, at some point, in all of the aforementioned cities. These cities will have a certain level of authority and regulatory say-so in regards to the project. Many of these these already have pre-existing retail and commercial centers that, if developed further, could bring in more tax revenue for these cities. Any further TOD in these municipalities could also bring an increase in population and larger tax revenues.
  • Ramsey & Washington Counties: Have some jurisdiction based on the GCP being within its borders. Could benefit from TOD.
  • Major business and commercial centers: 3M, Metro State University, Union Depot, Sunray shopping center. All of these businesses could benefit from an adjacent transit line. In the case of large employers such as 3M and Metro State a larger pool of talent could be attracted because of its increased accessibility. In the case of retail centers, they could see further development and an increased level of economic activity.
  • Nearby Residents: Depending on the person's perspective and situation the corridor could be viewed as a positive or a negative presence.

Timeline of Major Events edit

  • August 2010: The Gateway Corridor Commission initiates a transit alternatives analysis (AA) to examine the corridor following I-94 from Minneapolis to western Wisconsin. The purpose of this study was to determine the best mode of transport (BRT, LRT, or commuter rail) and the estimated ridership, environmental impacts, costs, routes, and stops.
  • Fall 2011: The GCC approves 8 transit alternatives based on recommendations from the technical and Policy Advisory Committees. The first two of these being required by the FTA:
  1. No Build
  2. Transportation Systems Management
  3. BRT from Minneapolis to Hudson, WI via I-94 and Hudson Rd
  4. BRT from Minneapolis to Hudson, WI via E. 7th St, White Bear Ave, and Hudson Rd
  5. LRT from St. Paul to Hudson, WI via I-94 and Hudson Rd
  6. LRT from St. Paul to Hudson, WI via E. 7th St, White Bear Ave, and Hudson Rd
  7. Commuter rail from Minneapolis to Eau Claire, WI
  8. BRT managed lane from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Wisconsin
  • March 2012: Commuter rail alternative is dismissed
  • October 2012: Ranking of alternatives after optimizing chosen routes. This involved making alterations to the chosen alternatives in consideration of property damage, ridership, and economic development opportunities. Alternatives 3 and 5 are chosen to be carried forward for further evaluation.
  • January 2013: AA is completed and approved by GCC
  • May 2013: research for Draft Environmental Impact Statement begins
  • Late 2013: Select final alternative for Gateway Corridor
  • 2013-2014: Continue environmental impact assessment based on the chosen preferred alternative

LRT vs. Freeway BRT edit

LRT edit


Some alternatives, like bus-based transit ways for bus rapid transit are always used to be compared to light rail. The flexibility of bus-based way was viewed advantage compared to permanence of light rail. It is more convenient for bus-based ways to convert right of way back to cars or trucks. Common features of LRT in the United States include:

  • Infrastructure/running way: LRT has dedicated running way and reserved right of way operation on ballasted or embedded track. Articulated reversible LRV is around 90 ft in length
  • Vehicles: Low-floor vehicles with multiple doors and doorway floors at the same level as station platforms
  • Intelligent Transportation System: Traffic signal priority and other traffic management techniques to minimize delay and service unpredictability
  • Service/operating plans: Overhead lines supply electricity to the vast majority of light rail systems

The following table compares the capital costs for selected BRT and LRT projects.

Project Type # of Facilities Cost Range(Capital Cost/mile [USD]) Avg. Capital Cost/mile [USD]
Busways 9 $7.0 mil - $55 mil $13.5 mil
HOV Lanes 8 $1.8 mil - $37.6 mil $9.0 mil
Arterial Streets 3 $200,000 - $9.6 mil $680,000
Light Rail 18 $12.4 mil - $118.8 mil $34.8 mil
  • Based on the second criterion: attractive patronage, there are some empirical comparisons of existing USA BRT and LRT. The Liverpool-Parramatta Transitway (LPT) has indicated that the bus systems are more capable to deliver higher levels of frequency with lower incidence of transfers compared to LRT, since LRT needs to use feeder bus to connect trips. And mode choice research implicates that transfers can result high level of dissatisfaction. But satisfaction is the main factor contributed to mode choice utility.

Transit Oriented Development in the Gateway Corridor

The Gateway Corridor overlays Interstate 94 and U.S. Highway 12 from the St. Croix River Bridge to Saint Paul. The Gateway Corridor is the only corridor in the Twin Cities metropolitan area that connects urban, suburban and rural communities across two states as seen in the figure. There are following key concerns during LRT-TOD procedure:

1. Potential ridership
2. FTA’s cost-effectiveness index
3. Environmental and sustainability
4. Stakeholder Supporting Network

Urban Planning

The first wave of LRT systems was justified largely on conventional measures – ridership, efficiency, and energy savings. However, LRT as a rapid transit strategy in urban area can definitely influence urban growth, land use, intensification and revitalization significantly. Cervero contends significant impacts and stimulated economic benefits only occur when a system is planned with policies and complementary land-use s strategies in place (Cervero 1984). Lots of scholars focus on interaction between land-use and transits and define the development mode as transit-oriented development. The best practice includes LRT-TODs in Eastside Village, Plano, TX and in Central Park Commons, Denver. Thus, when analyze alternatives as transportation improvement, broader community and urban context should be considered besides ridership, efficiency and energy savings.

BRT edit

Existing Systems

Nearly 160 BRT systems exist throughout the world. These systems serve nearly 30 million riders on a daily basis[8]. The TransMilenio system in Bogota, Colombia serves upwards of 198,163 during peak hours in September 2012[9]. Several North American cities have developed BRT systems frequently recognized for their success and unique features[10]. These cities include Ottawa, Canada; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Miami, Florida; Boston, Massachusetts; and Los Angeles, California. While the ridership of these systems do not compare to Bogota’s TransMilenio, the systems are nonetheless viable, and vital to each urban center’s transportation plans. This figure[11] provides a global view of the use of BRT and busway systems.

Curitiba Bus Rapid Transit, showing unique tube-shaped stations and 28m bi-articulated buses.

However, the world’s first and possibly most famous example, of BRT is Curitiba, Brazil’s Rede Integrada de Transporte. The city of Curitiba carefully integrated its BRT system into its development plan and adjacent development. The system is characterized by a dedicated, median running way with adjacent street services, off-vehicle far collection, bi-articulated buses, and unique tube shaped stations. The tube stations also provide an elevated, level surface for which boarding the buses is made easier.

Components edit

A Bus Rapid Transit system has several components. Various packages of different vehicles, stations, services, and systems are available to match the needs of cities developing a BRT system. Each system component has various advantages, and disadvantages associated with its use. Thus careful consideration of the objectives and constraints of proposed systems is necessary prior to deployment.

Running ways

  • These are ideally dedicated (bus only), paths for BRT vehicles to operate along, separated from other traffic. Combinations of dedicated, HOV, shoulder (curb) lanes, or tunnels can be used to integrate running ways into existing infrastructure, thereby minimizing costs[12]. Grade separation is also possible with BRT systems[13]. Running ways can also be guided, such that the bus is mechanically guided along a track, either on a rail-like system or using optical guidance.


  • Stations are often considered the most important aspect of a BRT system as they impact “accessibility, reliability, comfort, safety, and security, as well as dwell times, and system image.”[14] They can range from simple stops with well-lit shelters to complex facilities with extensive amenities and features (such as those found at many rail stations)[15]. Stations can be at curb level, or level with the vehicles floor. Safe pedestrian and auto access to the station is also a critical concern.


  • Vehicle choice is rife with options. Either standard or specialized buses can be chosen; several manufacturers currently supply or are developing vehicles specifically designed for BRT applications[16]. Other options include size, propulsion system, design, internal configuration, and be controlled electronically, manually, or mechanically[17]. Vehicles should provide sufficient capacity, to meet ridership demand, be easy to board and light from, meet and/or exceed environmental regulations, and have strong passenger appeal[18]. Common choices include articulated or bi-articulated buses.

Fare Collection

  • Fare collection systems can be electronic, mechanical, or manual. The crucial planning objective is for efficient, multiple door boarding, during peak-demand services. Fare collection must consider collection process (to reduce dwell time), fare media (i.e. cards or cash), and fare structure (flat or differentiated).

Service Plans

  • BRT service needs to be frequent, direct, easy-to- understand, comfortable, reliable, operationally efficient, and above all, rapid. The flexibility of BRT elements and systems leads to significant flexibility in designing a service plan to respond to the customer base it will serve and the physical and environmental surroundings in which it will operate. Important considerations include route length, simple or complex route structures, the times of day the service is available, how frequently service occurs, and the distance between stations.

Capital and Operating Cost edit

Total Costs

  • A dedicated BRT system along the I-94 Gateway Corridor is estimated to cost a total of $420 million for 11.5 miles. A BRT system running along managed lanes for 14.4 miles is estimated to cost $590 million[19].

The following table includes reported busway system development costs (USD)[20]

Busway Type and System Year Opened Miles Cost (millions) Cost (millions/mile)
Bus Tunnels
Boston-Silver Line 2005 4.1 $1,350.0 $329.3
Seattle 1989 2.1 $450.0 $214.3
Grade-Separated Busways
Adelaide, Australia (guided bus) 1989 7.5 $67.9 $9.1
Brisbane, Australia 2001 10.3 $330.1 $32.0
Ottawa 1983 16.0 $297.1 $18.6
Pittsburgh: South Busway 1977 4.3 $27.0 $6.3
Pittsburgh: East Busway 1983 6.8 $130.0 $19.1
Pittsburgh: East Busway Extension 2003 2.3 $68.8 $29.9
Pittsburgh: West Busway 2000 5.0 $249.9 $50.0
At-Grade Busways (Off-Street)
Hartford: New Britain (proposed) 2007 9.6 $145.0 $15.1
South Miami-Dade 1996 8.2 $59.0 $7.2
South Miami-Dade Extension 2007 11.5 $13.5 $1.2
At-Grade Busways (On-Street)
Bogotá, Colombia: TransMilenio1 2000 23.6 $184.0 $7.8
Cleveland: Euclid Avenue 2008 10.7 $168.4 $15.7
Quito, Ecuador: Trole Bus 1996 10.0 $57.6 $5.8

Component Costs

  • Running Ways
Little to no money is necessary if BRT vehicles use existing roads, and operate in the regular flow of traffic. The more exclusive the running way, the more expensive it becomes. Mixed flow lanes with queue jumping lanes for buses range from $0.1 to $0.29 million per mile plus the right of way acquisition costs. A more likely scenario for the Gateway corridor is either At-grade transitway, or fully grade-separated, exclusive transitways which range from $2.5 to $10.2 million per additional lane mile[21]. Signage and lateral guidance mechanism add substantial costs per mile and per vehicle.
  • Stations

The following table includes station types, amenities and costs.[22]

Station Type: Basic Stop Enhanced Stop Designated Station Intermodal Terminal/Transit Station
Amenities Minimal shelter Shelter, benches and trash cans Toilets, ITS, shelter, retail/restaurants, and level boarding Level boarding full range of amenities, passenger information, and transfer to other modes
Cost per station $15,000-$20,000 $25,000 to $30,000 $150,000 to $2.5 million $5 to $20 million
Other important considerations for station which impact cost are platform heights and layouts, fare collection, passing capability, and pedestrian and vehicle access to the station.
  • Vehicles
A wide range of vehicles types, propulsion systems, and guidance mechanisms are available. Prices range from $300,000 for a conventional diesel bus, $500,000 for conventional articulated buses, up to $1.6 million for specialized, stylized, articulated BRT vehicles. Propulsion systems can add from about $40,000 for CNG, to over $400,000 for dual mode trolley buses[23].
  • Fare Collection
Costs involved with fare collection range from low to moderate for on-board fare collection, to barrier enforced payment system (ticket vending machine and turnstyle) which cost between $50,000 to $95,000 per machine and must include hardware and software costs. Barrier Free (self service) systems, like those on the Hiawatha Blue line are cheaper ($30,000 to $60,000 per machine) but also require roving personnel to verify payment. Cash only systems range from $2,000 to $5,000, while “smart card” systems often cost more than $12,000 per validating machine and at least $10,000 per garage in software[24].

Potential Benefits and Drawbacks edit

Economic Development

  • Several scholars have concluded that BRT has a substantial and measurable impact on the economic situation of the areas in which it is built. For instance, the economic impact of the BRT system in Seoul, South Korea has been thoroughly studied. Land prices increased by roughly ten percent, while retail stores improved by 25 percent[25]. Other studies reveal increases in residential and employment densities within certain distances of BRT stations[26]. The Gateway Corridor Alternatives Analysis found BRT had the highest potential for positive economic impact.[27]


  • The Alternatives Analysis estimates that a BRT option would have an average daily ridership of 8,800-9,300, compared to a LRT ridership of 9,300. Nearly 150,000 vehicles enter St. Paul each day. A ridership of 8,800 might seem small, but reducing the number of vehicles by a proportional amount is a significant improvements.

Additional Information and Readings edit

Final Alternatives Analysis Report

References edit

  1. Alternatives Analysis Report, (2013), ES-4.
  2. Levinson, Herbert S. (2002) Bus Rapid Transit: An Overview. Journal of Public Transportation, 5, 2.
  3. Levinson, Herbert S. (2002) Bus Rapid Transit: An Overview. Journal of Public Transportation, 5, 6.
  4. Levinson, Herbert S. (2002) Bus Rapid Transit: An Overview. Journal of Public Transportation, 5, 6.
  5. Levinson, Herbert S. (2002) Bus Rapid Transit: An Overview. Journal of Public Transportation, 5, 6-8.
  6. Meyers, Robert A. (Ed.) (2012) Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology. 1812
  7. Hensher, David A., and April J. Reyes. "Trip chaining as a barrier to the propensity to use public transport." Transportation 27.4 (2000): 341-361.
  9. Transmilenio Sa (2013) Transportation Company of the Third Millennium SA, City Hall Mayor of Bogota, Colombia. Accessed Sept. 23, 2013.
  10. See, e.g., Levinson, Herbert S., 2002
  12. Transit Cooperative Research Program (2007) TCRP Report 118: Bus Rapid Transit Practioner’s Guide, 1-2 [hereinafter, TCRP (2007)]
  13. Federal Transit Authority (2004) Characteristics of Bus Rapid Transit for Decision Making. 2-1 [hereinafter FTA (2004)].
  14. Federal Transit Authority (2004) Characteristics of Bus Rapid Transit for Decision Making. 2-1 [hereinafter FTA (2004)].
  15. TCRP (2007), 4-45
  16. Levinson (2002), 26.
  17. FTA (2004), 2-1.
  18. TCRP (2007), 4-60 to 4-61.
  19. Metropolitan Council, Gateway Corridor Alternatives. Accessed September 24, 2013.
  20. TCRP (2007), 4-11.
  21. FTA (2004) 2-4 to 2-5.
  22. FTA (2004) 2-15 to 2-20.
  23. FTA (2004) 2-27 to 2-32.
  24. FTA (2004) 2-38 to 2-42.
  25. Cervero, Robert and Kang, Chang Deok (2011). Bus rapid transit impacts on land uses and land values in Seoul, Korea. Transportation Policy. 18, 102-116.
  26. Jin, Myung-Jin (2012). Redistributive effects of bus rapid transit (BRT) on development patterns and property values in Seoul, Korea. Transport Policy. 19, 85-92; Kang, Chang Deok (2010). The impact of Bus Rapid Transit on location choice of creative industries and employment density in Seoul, Korea. International Journal of Urban Studies. 14, 123-51.
  27. Metropolitan Council, Gateway Corridor Alternatives Analysis. Accessed September 24, 2013.

Other References