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Gateway Corridor project could expand local bus service

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news Woodbury, 55125
Woodbury Minnesota 8420 City Centre Drive 55125

A Gateway Corridor open house raised a key question last week: Along which side of Interstate 94 should the new transit system run?

The Gateway Corridor project is considering two route alignments through Woodbury, Oakdale and Lake Elmo – one on the north side and one on the south – with potential to expand local bus service to provide access to transit stations.

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Each of the options has its pros and cons. Policymakers will have to figure out whether a bus-rapid transit or a light-rail system should run in developable land to the north or along already established businesses in Woodbury with stops at Radio and Woodbury drives.

The new alignment option looks at open land with economic development opportunities and larger park-and-ride sites in Oakdale.

“But it’s also looking at the future,” said Beth Bertz, consultant with SRF Consulting Group, who asked about 50 attendees to provide feedback on transit stops as well. “Those station locations are really critical because that’s essentially what this transit is going to serve.”

Riders will need to get to and from various residential developments, retail centers and office buildings in Woodbury whether the system runs along the north or south.

Washington County Commissioner Lisa Weik, who serves on the Gateway Corridor Commission, said “feeder buses” or commuter vans would give riders access to the new system.

“It wouldn’t be you’d have to walk,” Weik said. “There would be some sort of ancillary bus service that would get people around.”

The plans on the south route call for a station at Radio Drive, which could potentially benefit new businesses like Cabela’s and the Woodbury Corporate Campus site, which is poised to bring office jobs, small retail shops and restaurants.

“The one concern with that station is how people access it,” said Lisa Rasmussen, a consultant working on the project, adding, “There is no way you can hit all of the developments.”

The former State Farm Corporate campus, which is under contract with Elion Partners – the investment group that plans to redevelop the site and add office buildings, a hotel, retail shops and restaurants – and could be key in the decision making process.

But it’s still too early before studies, plans and public feedback decide on which route is the most feasible.

Woodbury Economic Development Manager Janelle Schmitz said the city worked with Cabela’s to leave room for land acquisition should a transit system run there.

But it’s still years before plans are finalized for developers to include them in the Woodbury Corporate Campus project.

“It’s hard to ask them to dedicate so much property for something that’s so far away,” she said.

It’s also a challenge to gather public feedback on the exact alignment options because many citizens are still in the mindset of whether Gateway should move forward or not, said Mark Jenkins, a member of the citizens’ advisory panel.

“To the average citizen, it’s still so new,” he said. “They’re still in the ‘should we or shouldn’t we.’”

Azra Thakur takes the express bus every day to downtown Minneapolis where she works at Hennepin County Medical Center.

The 27-year-old Woodbury woman said the cost of public transit is much less than driving and much more pleasant than a congested I-94.

Thakur doesn’t favor one route over the other, but she said planners should encourage physical activity by expanding park-and-ride to accommodate bikes and upgrade the infrastructure to add walking trails.

“I can definitely see that as something people would be thinking about,” she said. “I think this will be an interesting process, I’m excited to learn more about it.”

Marty Chalupa of Afton was an avid transit user when he worked at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and utilized a nearby park-and-ride.

Now retired, he said it doesn’t matter which side the transit system runs on, as long as it’s fast and provides enough parking at park-and-ride locations.

“As a rider, I don’t want to stop every block or two,” he said, adding, “It’s important that the parking lot be large enough to accommodate increased ridership.”

For Gary Fose, a Woodbury resident who’s retiring in a few years, public transit of any kind is critical to the local population regardless of where it runs.

“As the population ages, more older people will be dependent on transit,” he said.

A public comment period will begin March 3 and run through April 16. Citizens will have a chance to provide feedback on the entire project but can also comment on the north and south alignment options by emailing gatewaycorridor@co.washington.mn.us.

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