Many options, many opinions on mass transit for Gateway Corridor

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 28, 2012 - 10:06 PM

Public is weighing in on Gateway Corridor proposals.

Nearly 200 people attended open houses to learn about plans for mass transit in the east metro, showing plenty of interest and offering plenty of varying opinions.

In St. Paul, Woodbury, Hudson and Eau Claire, Wis., people commented on seven options being considered for the corridor, which would run from St. Paul into western Wisconsin. Their responses ranged from excitement that fixed-transit construction could begin in 2017, to skepticism that anything needs to be done.

"No light rail! No trains! Too costly. This is not New York City. Cheapest is best. What is wrong with more highway lanes? You are not considering those of us who want to use our cars," commented one resident at an open house in Woodbury earlier this month.

But at the same meeting, there was a far different take from another resident:

"I would much prefer the LRT. As a daily bus rider, I know the ease and speed of LRT are a huge improvement over the bus, especially for an older clientele. It's also much more environmentally friendly."

In addition to the various opinions on wants and needs, residents and business owners also raised other concerns. Will property values go down? Will there be sound walls? Would they lose their property to acquisitions? How would traffic be affected during construction? What are the real benefits for St. Paul's East Side?

The public's response has been strong, not only at the open houses but on the Gateway Corridor Commission's Facebook page and website, too, said Ted Schoenecker, Washington County transportation manager.

In addition to reviewing hundreds of comments in coming months, the commission will refine technical data and operating costs.

There are a wide range of options being considered for the corridor. Among them:

Build nothing; light-rail transit (LRT); bus rapid transit (BRT), either in its own dedicated lanes or in managed lanes that are added in Interstate 94's center median, with stations in the middle of the freeway. Those managed lanes would be free to buses, motorcycles and car-poolers. Single-occupant vehicles could pay a congestion price to use the express lane, as MnPASS lanes charge on Interstate 394 and Interstate 35W.

Project costs, depending on the mode and route of mass transit selected, could range from $420 million to $1.2 billion, Schoenecker said.

The most costly alternative is an LRT line that would run from St. Paul to Hudson, travel into East Side neighborhoods via East 7th and White Bear Avenue, continue along I-94 to Radio Drive in Woodbury, access Woodbury neighborhoods, and end at Manning Avenue.

"People see the need for transit improvements on the Gateway Corridor to address growth and congestion in the east metro and to provide a balanced transit system in the metro region," said Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, who is on the 10-member Gateway Corridor Commission.

"People have a very strong desire to keep the existing express bus service, so one of the items that would be analyzed further is adding bypass lanes at BRT stations so express buses can skip station stops. Additional analysis would extend the work through the summer, at which time a locally preferred alternative should emerge."

In September, the commission will decide which options will be carried forward, from the alternatives phase to a phase that assesses environmental impacts to traffic, property and the environment, Schoenecker said.

That next phase also will detail how many property acquisitions would be needed, Schoenecker said. He noted that more analysis and cost estimating are underway to figure out how to get the most bang for their buck.

One option for commuter rail has been dropped because it was too costly and had fewer opportunities for economic development and ridership than other alternatives, he said.

Officials figure the Gateway transit line will start running by 2022, but that depends on federal and local funding, and approval of the plans by many government entities, from cities to the Federal Transit Administration, Schoenecker said.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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