The targeted opening of the Gateway Corridor transit project is still eight years away. But already, concerns are surfacing about the proposed route of bus rapid transit that would run along Interstate 94 from downtown St. Paul to Manning Avenue in Woodbury.
Earlier this month, about 75 people attended a public hearing on St. Paul's East Side to express concerns ranging from the placement of stations to whether the planned project would attract enough riders to merit its $465 million cost.
The route would involve BRT (bus rapid transit) buses running every 10 to 15 minutes on dedicated lanes, connecting growing eastern suburbs to the "greater regional transit network" of bus and rail lines via St. Paul's Union Depot, planners said.
Before it opens, Metro-Transit plans to introduce express bus service along the route to "help grow ridership," said Andy Gitzlaff, a Washington County senior planner and project manager for the Gateway Corridor Commission.
Despite all the plans and optimism, criticism surfaced early at a hearing Aug. 7 at Conway Recreation Center when Steve Trimble, a Dayton's Bluff resident, called the project "another example of our neighborhood [getting] rolled through for the positive things it will do to people somewhere else."
Trimble also expressed concern that a bus lane along Hudson Road along the freeway would "take out virtually all of the parking for the few businesses that do exist."
Other speakers, including those representing the District 14 Community Council and Globe University in Woodbury, said they supported the project in principle but took issue with some specifics in the preliminary design plan.
Betsy Leach, speaking on behalf of the District 14 Community Council, which represents the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood in St. Paul, stressed the necessity of "a robust circular system" to and from stations along the line.
Lisa Palermo, a representative for Globe University in Woodbury, worried that under the preferred alignment, students exiting the proposed station at 4th Street N. and Inwood Avenue would be forced to walk about 25 minutes "through a busy intersection twice a day" to reach the school's campus.
Gateway officials have said they will conduct a series of studies on the social, economic and environmental effects of the proposed 12-mile corridor as part of the federal environmental review process. Officials last month unveiled their preferred alignment, known as A-B-C-D2-E2 in plans, but said they will continue studying three other alternatives before a final decision is made at a Sept. 11 board meeting.
Two days before the public hearing at Conway, Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., spoke out against the transit project at a lightly attended meeting at Dayton's Bluff Recreation Center.
O'Toole, an outspoken light-rail critic, was invited to speak by a group of East Side residents who questioned why Gateway was needed and how it would affect cities in its path.
"I don't like driving, I don't like cars," O'Toole said. "And yet, as an economist, I know that cars transformed the 20th century. The automobile revolution changed everything for people."
One of the concerns raised in a brief film that preceded O'Toole's talk was the potential disruption to the quality life of life for residents and business owners along Hudson Road.
"Remember Rondo," O'Toole said at one point, referring to the predominantly African-American neighborhood that was uprooted in the 1960s to make way for I-94.
Most audience members nodded.