Transit study gets green light from Gateway Corridor CommissionEastern Twin Cities and western Wisconsin officials want an upcoming study to serve as a roadmap for future transit improvements along Interstate 94.
By: Scott Wente and Amber Kispert, Woodbury Bulletin
Eastern Twin Cities and western Wisconsin officials want an upcoming study to serve as a roadmap for future transit improvements along Interstate 94.
A coalition of elected officials touted the beginning of an 18-month analysis of Interstate 94 as a significant step toward improving the region’s transportation system to accommodate a growing population and spur economic development.
“If you don’t have quality transportation options, it’s going to be very difficult for you to sell your area to new business,” Sen. Kathy Saltzman said.
The study was formally launched Monday, Aug. 16 at The Hartford Financial, a large employer along Interstate 94 in Woodbury.
“This study is long overdue,” Saltzman, a DFLer from Woodbury, said “I’m just delighted that it’s finally moving forward — this is the absolute critical first step because without a plan it’s difficult to move forward.”
During Monday’s meeting, members of the Gateway Corridor Commission received a short presentation on what the study will be looking at.
Tamara Fagley, the vice president for the Harford Life & Hartford Mutual Funds, said the study will prove to be beneficial for businesses and residents alike because almost 94,000 people commute along the corridor every day.
“The roads are becoming very congested around here,” she said. “It’s going to benefit everyone.”
Fagley said the Gateway Corridor will not only benefit commuters going both east and west during the work days, it will also benefit those who travel on the weekends.
Woodbury City Council member Paul Rebholz, who substituted for Mayor Bill Hargis during the meeting, said he is hopeful the study will be able to provide more transportation options for commuters throughout the day, not just at peak times in the morning and evening.
“Right now we’re just trying to understand what those options are and which ones are the most viable,” he said. “The Gateway Corridor will continue to make the (East Metro) strong and vibrant.”
Global engineering and planning firm CH2M Hill has been awarded a $1.4 million contract to study Interstate 94 from St. Paul to Eau Claire, Wis. The firm will review what transit mode – such as a light-rail line or bus rapid transit -- and will analyze potential commuter ridership as well as the cost to build and operate a transit system.
Washington County transportation planner Ted Schoenecker said the firm recognizes the importance of Interstate 94 to area communities.
“They understand how this corridor fits in with the rest of the region,” he said.
The firm was picked by the Gateway Corridor Commission, a joint-powers board comprised of elected officials from Washington and Ramsey counties, Woodbury, Lake Elmo, Afton and other area communities. Western Wisconsin officials also are involved, a move signifying that regional transportation needs does not end at the state border.
The study is being paid for with taxpayer dollars put forward by Ramsey and Washington counties, the Metropolitan Council and the federal government.
East-metro officials have acknowledged that other areas of the Twin Cities have been more aggressive and organized in developing transit projects and securing state and federal funding for transportation improvements. Even U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul, who represents areas along the corridor, told Gateway Corridor commission members earlier this year that they would have a better chance at landing federal dollars for transportation projects if they worked together.
The Gateway Corridor Commission timed the launch of its transit study with the release of a public relations effort that is intended to draw more awareness to transportation needs along the interstate.
“We all have a vision,” Saltzman said. “We can’t overemphasize the importance of this study.”