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County opts to expand I-94 transit study

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • June 18, 2011 - 9:22 PM

A study taking a broad view of future transit options to unclog chronic congestion along Interstate 94 east of the Twin Cities is getting a little broader.

Washington County, together with Ramsey County and the Metropolitan Council, is sharing the cost of an additional $100,000 to see whether a managed or MnPASS lane is a feasible option between St. Paul and Hudson, Wis., on I-94. The freeway is one of the most congested traffic routes in the Twin Cities.

The Washington County Board, on a 4-0 vote Tuesday, approved spending $40,000 for its share of the study costs. Ramsey County is adding a like amount, and the Metropolitan Council will add $20,000, said Ted Schoenecker, county transportation manager. The funds come from the Counties Transit Improvement Board quarter-cent sales tax.

A two-year, $1.4 million "alternative analysis" begun last fall by the Gateway Corridor Commission is focusing on seven specific transit options along I-94 that include light-rail, commuter trains and buses that could extend from Minneapolis to as far as Eau Claire, Wis. Washington County is a member of the commission.

Now, a managed lane option will be added to the study's mix.

MnPASS lanes are already operating on I-394 west of Minneapolis, and on Interstate 35W from Minneapolis to Burnsville (which is being lengthened this summer). It allows solo drivers to pay a toll during peak traffic hours for the privilege of using an express lane otherwise designated for car pools and buses.

The seven proposals already under study are:

• Express buses (two options): From St. Paul-Minneapolis to Woodbury and from St. Paul-Minneapolis to Eau Claire.

• Bus-rapid transit (two options): From Minneapolis to Hudson, Wis., with a stop in St. Paul; express buses would then connect Hudson to Eau Claire. Also, from Minneapolis to Hudson through St. Paul's East Side.

• Light-rail (two options): From St. Paul to Hudson on I-94; from St. Paul to Hudson through St. Paul's East Side.

• Commuter rail (one option): From Minneapolis to Eau Claire, following either the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks north of I-94 through St. Paul's Midway or the Canadian Pacific Railway route south of I-94 into downtown St. Paul. It then would connect to a Union Pacific Railroad route north of I-94 to Eau Claire through Maplewood, Oakdale and Lake Elmo.

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