Commuter rail from Twin Cities to Eau Claire off table for I-94

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 15, 2012 - 9:44 PM

But the Gateway Corridor Commission still has seven transit options to ease east-metro traffic congestion.

A proposal for a commuter rail line to run along Interstate 94 from the Twin Cities to Eau Claire, Wis., was swept off the planning map Thursday, but otherwise the Gateway Corridor Commission has miles to travel before deciding specifics for a transit corridor along the busy stretch of freeway.

The commission voted unanimously to eliminate the proposed 99-mile line at an estimated cost of $1.23 billion, but seven ideas for reducing east-metro traffic congestion remain under consideration.

That decision came after representatives of the consulting firm CH2M presented results of an 18-month study that ranked commuter rail the least desirable alternative. Other plans propose rapid transit buses or light-rail trains for the segment of I-94 that runs from Union Depot in downtown St. Paul to Manning Avenue in Woodbury.

One of two plans scoring highest in the study was a $420 million plan to use a bus rapid transit line along I-94 and Hudson Road. The other was for $590 million for buses on I-94 to share an HOV lane with other vehicles, similar to those on I-35W and I-394.

In a separate motion, commissioners voted to ask CH2M to collect more information from residents during a series of open houses over the next month.

"The study is the process of elimination," said Washington County Commissioner Lisa Weik, who leads the commission. "You shake down and shake some more, and at some point it will become pretty clear."

What was not clear, commissioners said, were charts and informational graphics that will be shown at public meetings starting March 27 at Harding High School in St. Paul. Commissioners voted to revise materials to help residents more easily decipher rankings assigned to each plan as well as perceived benefits to neighborhoods.

They will make more than 600 posters in four languages to advertise the meetings and use Facebook, YouTube and Washington and Ramsey County websites to get the word out.

Plans were ranked on projected daily ridership, costs, opportunities for economic development, traffic patterns, travel times and how many homes and businesses would be lost.

One of the low-ranking plans, using light-rail trains traveling through St. Paul's East Side neighborhoods via 7th Street and White Bear Avenue, would have the most daily riders at 10,100. But the plan received a low ranking because of its $1.28 billion price tag. It also would require displacing 92 property owners and acquiring 349 partial properties.

A second low-ranking plan, costing $500 million, would use buses along the same routes but travel time would be slow and 84 full properties and 331 partial properties would have to be acquired.

A plan receiving a medium ranking called for a light- rail line along I-94 and Hudson Road. It scored well for its projected 9,100 daily riders and 14-minute travel time from Oakdale, but it earned negative marks for average opportunities for economic development and its cost of $980 million.

After the St. Paul open house, others will be held in Eau Claire on March 29, Hudson on April 4 and Woodbury on April 5. A policy and technical committee and the consultants will review public comment before the commission meets on April 25.

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib

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