Here in Ramsey and Washington counties, elected officials, business leaders and members of the public are seeing seismic changes in population and job growth. We recognize the need to ensure that our infrastructure is robust and capable of moving people efficiently and effectively.
Planning for these infrastructure needs requires important investments in the region, and the long anticipated opening of the Central Corridor this year is an excellent first step. For the next step, we believe the state should invest in the next phase of federally required study for the proposed Gateway Corridor rapid transit line from St. Paul to Woodbury.
Traffic congestion in the Gateway Corridor along Interstate 94 between St. Paul and Woodbury is growing. According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, 113,000 vehicles travel on I-94 between Radio Drive and Interstate 494/Interstate 694 each day. This is the second-highest traffic count of the seven interstate highways where they cross the I-494/I-694 ring (the first is in Maple Grove, with 114,000 vehicles). By 2030, the Gateway Corridor will be the Twin Cities’ busiest at 156,000 vehicles.
Traffic counts are increasing because population and jobs are increasing. By 2030, population along the corridor is expected to swell by 40 percent (90,000 people) and the area is projected to add 61,500 jobs.
Gateway Corridor rapid transit would give people an alternative to sitting in traffic. It would provide all-day transit service on either light rail or bus rapid transit (BRT) in a dedicated guideway. It would stop at 11 or 12 stations and would connect to the regional transit system at Union Depot in St. Paul. The system could be operational by 2022, if timely local investments are continued.
The Gateway project would:
• Improve access to jobs.
• Help the east metro compete regionally and nationally.
• Spur economic growth.
• Provide a safe, less stressful, convenient way for travelers to connect with the entire region via a network of bus, light rail and Amtrak.
BRT has distinct advantages in this corridor. It is more cost-effective than light rail, and it has the flexibility to enter mixed traffic at pinch points along the route. Most of the route would be within a dedicated guideway with highly visible stations, which have proved to be a catalyst for economic development.
Public input now, during early stages of development, will continue to shape what Gateway Corridor rapid transit looks like, but the project is already gathering support. It has the unanimous support of each of the local governments along the route. The business community strongly supports an expansion of transit in the corridor. The St. Paul and Woodbury Chambers of Commerce and the East Side Area Business Association, among others, are vocal advocates.
Metropolitan State University President Sue Hammersmith calls Gateway “a crucial regional asset. (Gateway) will help us more fully achieve our core mission of providing educational access to adult learners across the entire metro region.” Nearly 80 percent of Minnesotans agree that the state would benefit from an expanded and improved public transit system, according to a 2013 statewide survey conducted by three Twin Cities’ chambers of commerce.
The Gateway Corridor Commission — made up of local elected officials, and business and community leaders — is seeking $5 million in bonding from the state in 2014. The funds are critical this year to leverage federal transit funds and to begin engineering work. An environmental study is underway, and the data-driven process will produce a recommended mode this year: light-rail transit or bus rapid transit.
A $5 million investment from the state would keep the Gateway Corridor viable in the Federal Transit Administration process and recognize the needs of east-metro businesses and residents.
Learn more about the Gateway Corridor at www.theGatewayCorridor.com.
Lisa Weik is a Washington County commissioner. Rafael Ortega is a Ramsey County commissioner They are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Gateway Corridor Commission.