The Red Rock Corridor Commission has doubled down on its vision for a bus rapid transit system in South Washington County.

The commission voted last Thursday to pursue a 12-stop bus option instead of a six-stop alternative. The vote by the seven member quorum was unanimous.

The route will run along a 30-mile corridor from Union Depot in St. Paul through east St. Paul, Newport, St. Paul Park and Cottage Grove to Hastings. The $43.7 million cost would

cover station construction, buses, right-of-way acquisition and other expenses. It would piggyback on the Gateway Corridor in east St. Paul before splitting off to head through south Washington County.

But residents in those communities will have a say in the ultimate number and location of stations.

“When you’re going to build sidewalks, let the people walk and then build the sidewalk where they’re walking,” said commission member and Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman.

Bus rapid transit would offer service from 5 a.m. to midnight weekdays and from 7 a.m. to midnight weekends. Supporters see benefits to both business commuters and area residents looking to get around for shopping and other purposes. It could be 10 years before the route is operational.

The other alternative would have featured six stops at a cost of $28.6 million. It would have traveled mainly along Highway 61, making it less accessible to some cities and communities along the way.

Karla Bigham, Red Rock Corridor Commission chairwoman and a Washington County commissioner, said the scale of the 12-stop option would have the most positive impact on the southeast suburbs, whose population is expected to increase by 100,000 in 20 years.

“The amount of people we would be able to serve is greater and the amount of land for economic development is greater,” Bigham said.

Hally Turner, planner for Washington County, said that the commission has to do a better job of telling residents that the bus rapid transit was not going to eliminate the current express bus service that runs from park-and-ride lots in Cottage Grove and Lower Afton Road to the Twin Cities.

“The service is in addition to the express service,” she said.

Preliminary plans call for the bus rapid transit system to take riders from Union Depot in St. Paul to stations at Mounds Boulevard, Earl Street and Etna Street in St. Paul before heading southeast along Highway 61 to stops at Upper Afton Road, Newport and St. Paul Park. In Cottage Grove it would stop near 80th Street and near the Jamaica Avenue-Highway 61 interchange. In Hastings, buses could stop at the depot and Lions Park before ending at the Dakota County Government Center.

Mike Slavik, commision member and a Dakota County commissioner, said that there was “very strong support for additional stations in Cottage Grove and Hastings.” However, he said some Hastings residents told him that two of the stations were too close together. He wasn’t sold on an even dozen, either, he said.

“I still don’t think 12 is the answer, but I still think more than six is the answer,” Slavik said.

The vote means that the commission’s technical advisory committee can proceed with the final phase of its implementation plan, which will address projected ridership, cost per stop, and how to pay for the project. They will work with consultants at Kimley-Horn and Associates.

“We’re going to be looking at how we’ll phase and finance construction of the stations and procurement of buses,” said Brian Smalkoski, transportation engineer and planner at Kimley-Horn.

First, however, Washington County staffers and Kimley-Horn representatives will meet with officials in cities along the route to get feedback on the best location for their particular stops.

Additional commission members at the meeting included St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke, Cottage Grove City Council member Jen Peterson, Hastings City Council member Mark Vaughn and Marion Greene of Hennepin County.