Any commuter sitting in the slow-moving parking lot otherwise known as Interstate 94 at peak rush hour has likely thought at some point: Isn't there a better way?
With the traffic problem on the main east metro thoroughfare to and from the Twin Cities only expected to get dramatically worse in the next 20 years, planners are working on both short- and long-term solutions to bring relief.
Some of those solutions are already visible: More buses. And even more buses -- and other modes of transit under study by the Gateway Corridor Commission -- may be on the way.
The park-and-ride lot at the Woodbury 10 Theatre complex could double in size from its 550-vehicle capacity with the addition of a $13 million parking ramp. With the city's support (but no funding commitment), Metro Transit is submitting a request for a federal grant that would help pay for the ramp, which could be built by 2016, said Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland.
That expansion comes on the heels of the addition of 235 parking spaces two years ago at the Oakdale park-and-ride lot at Guardian Angels Catholic Church, bringing the capacity to 435.
And plans are still in the works for a 550-vehicle park-and-ride ramp at the southeast corner of the Manning Avenue/I-94 interchange. The ramp is one piece of Red Rock Territory, a 600-acre industrial, retail and residential complex poised for development.
But that park-and-ride expansion alone may not be enough.
Population along I-94 in the east metro, dubbed the Gateway Corridor, now is 300,000, said Andy Gitzlaff, transit planner with the Washington County Railroad Authority. More than 90,000 vehicles cross the St. Croix at Hudson each day, and by the time traffic reaches St. Paul, the number of vehicles swells to 150,000.
That population is expected to grow 30 percent in the next 20 years, along with 30,000 new jobs. The problem, he said, is that "there's no major capital highway investment planned for that corridor."
Even if a larger bridge were built at Stillwater, the capacity for I-94 to handle the heavier load is inadequate. That's why the Gateway Corridor Commission is looking at multiple layers of solutions -- bus rapid transit, light-rail lines and commuter trains -- to address the congestion.
The commission is completing a major study to determine the best transit solution, or mix of solutions, in an area from Minneapolis to Eau Claire, Wis.
"We have population growth and employment growth in every community on this corridor," said Stephanie Eiler, a consultant for the commission. Providing the right transit solution will help those communities keep their identity and quality of life, she said.
Bus rapid transit -- allowing buses to bypass stalled traffic in their own lanes or on the shoulders -- is a big part of the commission's eight alternatives under study, and would build on what's already developing in terms of park-and-ride options, she said.
"We have plans to take this many steps farther than what Metro Transit is able to do," Eiler said last week at one of four open house presentations on the commission study (others are set for Tuesday in Woodbury and Thursday in St. Paul).
From 2007 to last year, demand for park-and-rides in the east metro grew nearly 1,600 riders a day to more than 2,200 on the five bus routes they serve.
The commission is looking at plans that could include adding park-and-ride lots at other sites, along with bus feeder routes in Stillwater, Oakdale and Woodbury that would link to light-rail stations.
For more information go to www.thegatewaycorridor.com
Jim Anderson • 651-735-0999