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The Twin Cities' first venture into bus rapid transit (BRT) continued to come into focus with Monday's unveiling of new buses meant to resemble trains and stand out from regular buses.

The seven buses for the Cedar Avenue line between Apple Valley and Bloomington have two doors, low floors and inside racks for bikes. Outside, the buses have yellow markings; inside are red plush seats.

Set to begin service in May or June, the $112 million busway is expected to carry 960 weekday rides the first year, growing to 1,600 by the third year and 3,650 in 2030.

Buses will come every 15 minutes, riding the shoulders of Cedar from Apple Valley through Eagan to the Mall of America in Bloomington. The Apple Valley Transit Station is the southernmost stop.

Officials from the Metropolitan Council, Dakota County, Eagan, Apple Valley, Burnsville, Bloomington, Rosemount, Farmington and Lakeville on Monday viewed one bus in Apple Valley.

"I am so excited about this wonderful new bus," said Met Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh. "We hope this will be one of the best BRT lines in the country."

It will take time for ridership to grow, said Arlene McCarthy, director of transportation services for the Met Council. The appeal, she said, will be that "people can now get around all day long, all week long."

"This is a new market. I think it's going to have to grow as people get familiar with the service," said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, a leader in metro area transit development. "We are not going to get Hiawatha [light rail] level of numbers here right out of the chute."

The Dakota County Board initiated the project in 2004 as the county's connection to the metro area's transit spine. BRT will connect riders to Hiawatha Avenue light rail between the airport and downtown Minneapolis, the Central Corridor rail line set to open in 2014 between Minneapolis and St. Paul, and Northstar Commuter Rail between Minneapolis and Big Lake.

Although some commuters may find it convenient to take BRT to work, the busway will not be geared to them. Minnesota Valley Transit Authority commuter bus service to downtown Minneapolis will continue unchanged.

Dakota County Commissioner Will Branning, who has championed BRT for Cedar, has seen BRT in other cities and has perhaps the strongest vision of its potential here.

People will appreciate being able to leave their cars at home and take the busway to the airport and Mall of America or other stores and restaurants along Cedar, Branning said.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287