East metro previews Gateway Corridor transit project

Gateway Corridor planners helped residents and community leaders brainstorm ideas for bus or light-rail stops in Oakdale, Lake Elmo and Woodbury at an open house Feb. 6 at Globe University in Woodbury. A formal feedback period on the project starts March 3. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

East metro residents and leaders recently previewed a project that would add 12 miles of a light-rail train line or designated bus lanes, linking St. Paul with neighboring suburbs, including Maplewood, Oakdale and Lake Elmo.

The dozens of attendees of the open house Feb. 6 at Globe University in Woodbury shared ideas aloud and on comment sheets, but a formal feedback period (called scoping) is March 3 through April 16.

“There are some concerns people have, but this is an opportunity to explore and help find the right solutions,” said state Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, at the open house.

The Gateway Corridor Commission is considering two possible line alignments with two potential modes of transportation. The group is made up of individuals and organizations from the cities of Afton, Lake Elmo, Lakeland, Maplewood, Oakdale, St. Paul, West Lakeland Township and Woodbury, and Ramsey and Washington counties.

One possible stretch would have busses or light-rail trains travel along Inwood Avenue. Another would wind along Interstate 94, include a Radio Drive station and continue to Interstate 694 to the west of an Oakdale business park (Crossroads/Oak). Also being considered are north and south alignments cutting through Lake Elmo to Manning Avenue and the St. Croix River crossing into Wisconsin.

The system may include 11 stations and connections to the regional transit system.

The project is in the early planning stage, where organizers are still gathering feedback on the options and working on a draft environmental impact statement. With construction possibly starting in 2018, a news release says the line could be open for service by 2022.

Anticipating growth

While there wasn’t much talk about costs, those involved with the plan are hoping that a light-rail or a bus rapid transit system would attract revenue-boosting development to the corridor.

“Money likes to go where money has been spent,” said Lisa Weik, the Gateway Corridor Commission chair and a Washington County commissioner who represents a large portion of Woodbury.

Weik said that the corridor would be an “infrastructure investment,” which could help attract developers to the area.

She said there was a lot of “respectful curiosity and interest” about the project at the open house.

“The public is starting to realize this isn’t 10 years off,” she said. “It’s more tangible. They want to make sure we do it right.”

The population within the I-94 area is already expected to increase by 30 percent by 2030, jumping from the estimated 300,000 people who are now living there.

Hundreds of thousands of cars are crossing the St. Croix River to enter St. Paul daily, planners say.

While many appeared excited about the possibility of connecting the metro and the suburbs through public transit, some didn’t want attendees to forget it costs money.

A Move MN campaign representative was handing out cards, reminding attendees that the project needs funding in order to happen. The organization is pushing state lawmakers to increase transit funding in the 2014 legislative session.

Improving commute, opening up job options

Richard Gilbert of Oakdale has taken a bus from the park-and-ride lot at Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale to Minneapolis, where he works in brokerage and financial planning. 

He said he attended the session because he’s interested in improving express transit service between the eastern suburbs and the metro area.

While the light-rail or express bus lane would improve his commute by offering an alternative to driving, Gilbert noted that more traveling amenities could also draw business to cities along the corridor.

“I’m just glad to see us get involved,” he said. “It’s time for St. Paul to catch up with Minneapolis.”

Mark Jenkins, a Maplewood representative on the Gateway Corridor citizen advisory committee, has helped organize the upcoming scoping meetings.

He said organizers wanted to involve the public early in deciding where the bus or light-rail could potentially go, hosting the open house prior to the 45-day scoping period.

“We’re here early so you can say, ‘I want to stop here or I don’t want to stop here.’” Jenkins said.

Drawing on his experience using the transit systems of New York and Washington, D.C., Jenkins said he would prefer a light-rail system, because it’s accessible to everyone, and he finds it more convenient than bus routes.

“But, it’s not my decision,” he added. “It’s the community’s decision.”

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7814 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

Chances to weigh in

Gateway Corridor comments related to station locations, proposed routes, types of transit and other issues can be submitted during the formal “scoping” period March 3 through April 16. A booklet with more information on possible routes and stops will soon be distributed online and at libraries and city halls in the project area.

Send feedback by:
Emailing gatewaycorridor@co.washington.mn.us
Mailing comments to Andy Gitzlaff, project manager, at Washington Public Works, 116600 Myeron Road N., Oakdale, MN, 55128.
Faxing them to 651-430-4350

Or attend open houses:
• 4:30-6:30 p.m. March 24 at Guardian Angels Catholic Church, 8260 Fourth St. N., Oakdale.
• 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. March 25 at Conway Recreation Center, 2090 Conway Ave., St. Paul.
• 2 p.m. April 10 at Woodbury City Hall, 8301 Valley Creek Road, Woodbury.



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