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East metro transit backers band together

Teamwork was the name of the game at an inaugural meeting for east metro transit proponents last week in St. Paul.

The meeting represented the kickoff of the East Metro Transit Alliance, whichbleaders said will aim to buoy transit projects in and around St. Paul..

Attendees were encouraged to band together through the alliance in an effort to garner federal and state transportation dollars for transit projects -- and the economic development they hope will be spurred by new rail and bus lines.

"The west metro is eating our lunch," St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kramer said.

The concept of an east metro alliance working toward a common goal makes sense to Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, who was present at the meeting, held May 14 at St. Paul's Union Depot.

"Together you accomplish more," she said after the meeting.

Also among the 50 or so attendees was Washington County Project Manager Andy Gitzlaff, who outlined plans for two transportation projects slated to run through south Washington County. The newly formed alliance could carry more gravitas, he said.

"It helps to have political support when you're out in the community," Gitzlaff said.

Though he tried to tamp down the perception of a clash between east and west metro as they compete for transportation funding, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman delivered a message to the group that all ships rise with a high tide.

The difference, he said, is that tide needs to rise in the east metro.

"We are a region," Coleman said. "As a region, we all have to be advocates for our needs."

Planners from Washington and Ramsey County, along with St. Paul, outlined a total of nine projects -- six concentrated in St. Paul, two serving Washington County and one -- the Rush Line -- that would stretch from St. Paul to Forest Lake, and possibly beyond.

Leaders at the meeting hedged when asked which projects would be funded first, but said those that are farther along in their planning process will likely be considered.

Stephens said she likes the Gateway Corridor's chances. The project, which would involve either high-speed buses or light rail transit, is planned to run from Union Depot through Woodbury to Manning Avenue. The Gateway project, slated to cost between $432 million a $1.12 billion -- depending on the transportation mode -- concluded its critical alternatives analysis last year and now enters a process to complete an environmental impact statement.

"Gateway's positioned well right now," Stephens said. "We seem to be tracking ahead."

Also in the works for south Washington County is the Red Rock Corridor. That line, which would run between Hastings, though Cottage Grove all the way to St. Paul, was originally planned for light rail travel, but Gitzlaff said planners are doing a "recheck" to determine if high-speed buses would be more efficient.

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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