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Gateway panel approves state bonding request

The Gateway Corridor Commission last week approved a $1 million bonding request to fund the initial stages of a plan that aims to construct a high-speed bus passageway through Woodbury.

Gateway Corridor officials couched the request as a "down payment" for the bus-rapid transit project that is estimated to cost more than $400 million. Plans call for a dedicated corridor through Woodbury for a high-speed bus line that would stretch from St. Paul's Union Station to Manning Avenue.

The bonding request will come from Washington County, which has included the measure in its 2013 legislative agenda. Commissioners will meet with the Washington County legislative delegation in January, where it's likely they will discuss the bonding request.

The $1 million request would go toward preliminary engineering work for 2014, though the project's manager, Andy Gitzlaff, said those costs could increase to $6.4 million over the next four years.

But whether there is even a window of opportunity for the request to gain traction in the Legislature remains to be seen.

John Kaul, a lobbyist for Washington County, told commissioners at the Thursday, Dec. 13, meeting that the appetite for a bonding bill this legislative session varies greatly between the main Capitol players.

Rep. Alice Hausman's approach looks most promising for the request, Kaul said. Hausman, the St. Paul Democrat who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee, "wants a big, ambitious bill with lots of transit in it."

Other prospects weren't as promising.

Gov. Mark Dayton may consider a smaller bonding bill, Kaul said, adding that Senate leaders have been focusing mainly on passing the state's two-year budget - the top priority this session at the Capitol.

"There could be a bonding bill but I don't think there's going to be a very big bonding bill," he told commissioners, some of whom were eager to place the Gateway Corridor request in the hopper, where it will compete for funding with other regional transit projects.

Those include two light-rail projects, both of which would run to downtown Minneapolis. The proposed Bottineau Transitway, a 13-mile light-rail line slated to run from Brooklyn Park through northwest-metro suburbs, while the Southwest Light Rail Transit line, which would carry riders from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis.

Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens said the strategy of Southwest line supporters appears to be more aggressive.

"I'm challenging us to think, 'Do we really want to be next in line to Southwest?'" she said.

Kaul said an aggressive strategy could serve the Gateway Corridor project well.

"That's what gets the attention over there," he said, referring to the Capitol, "the urgency of your request."

Lisa Weik, a Washington County Commissioner and chairwoman of the Gateway Corridor, said other projects have the obstacles of freight lines that could hold up their efforts to Gateway's benefit.

"I think we have every reason to believe we can be the next corridor," she said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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