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Gateway Corridor panel greenlights high-speed buses

A plan to create a new busing corridor through Woodbury received its highest approval yet last week when a key transit panel voted to push it through for environmental study.

Gateway Corridor Commissioners unanimously approved a recommendation to advance the bus-rapid transit plan along in a process that is still years away.

The plan calls for a dedicated high-speed busing route that - through Woodbury - would run south of Interstate 94 to Manning Avenue, where the corridor would end after beginning at St. Paul's Union Depot.

The decision effectively eliminates all other options commissioners had analyzed for months.

One other option, a light-rail plan, also was advanced through the process, though commissioners said its inclusion was largely for comparative purposes.

"BRT has taken a strategic lead," said Gateway Corridor Commission Chairwoman and Washington County Board Member Lisa Weik, adding that advancing the light-rail option "will just make the future study results more robust."

Gateway commissioners weighed the options against three main criteria: improving mobility, providing cost-effective, economically viable transit, and supporting economic development. The bus rapid-transit (BRT) option received high marks among all criteria.

"This is a very important day in this project's progress," said Gateway Corridor project manager Andy Gitzlaff.

The BRT option is slated to cost $404 million and about $10 million in annual operating costs. A study aimed at winnowing down the options concluded the BRT plan was the most promising, as compared to other options that were either deemed too expensive or didn't foster economic development.

An option that called for creating a managed lane for rapid-transit buses was jettisoned since it was not eligible for federal funding, as the dedicated corridor option is. That option also received low marks since it called for stations to be built on I-94 medians; the study concluded that the station locations wouldn't foster economic development.

"The commission's charge was to determine if the east metro could build a cost-effective, economically viable transit option that improved mobility and supports future economic development," Weik said. "The corridor's population is projected to grow by 30 percent by 2030, creating a dedicated transit line along Hudson Road allows for the greatest access to the increasing population and job base in the east metro."

The Gateway project is aimed at reducing projected traffic congestion in the east metro heading into the future, though the scope of the project has been reduced. Instead of plans to stretch out into western Wisconsin, the end point of the Gateway project is now set for the Manning Avenue terminal.

The project now moves on to preparation of draft environmental impact statement, which begins early next year.

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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