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Gov. Dayton to give $3 million boost for Gold Line bus project

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The proposed Gold Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project is getting a boost following Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s visit to Woodbury. 

Dayton held a public discussion Thursday afternoon about the proposed bus line in Woodbury as part of his tour of the state. During the discussion, Dayton said he would allocate $3 million from his budget for the project’s next funding cycle.

"We have to have an expanded metro system if we're going to have a viable region economically and socially," Dayton said.

Previously estimated at $485 million, the Gold Line BRT project will connect Union Depot Station in St. Paul, with Maplewood, Landfall, Oakdale and Woodbury along Interstate 94.

If built, federal dollars and local sales tax would cover the majority of the project, with 45 percent of funds coming from the federal government and 35 percent from the five-county metro’s sales tax. Ramsey and Washington counties would also pitch in 5 percent of the project’s costs and the remaining 10 percent would come from the state.

Compared to other cities Dayton’s visited--including San Francisco, Boston and Washington D.C.--he said public transportation in the metro area has fallen short.

“I've never seen public transit that ends downtown, so it just shows me how far behind we are," he said.

The Gateway Corridor Commission, a body of public officials across different counties, cities and other organizations, recently unveiled potential new routes for the Gold Line BRT, which included a route that would end at Woodbury Village.

The commission needed to find an alternate route following the Lake Elmo City Council’s decision to withdraw from the project early this year. The group expects to have a route selected by the end of the year.

The Gold Line would be the first BRT line to travel in a dedicated lane. Construction on the line is expected to start in 2018 with service beginning in 2022.

Supporters of the project have become increasingly sensitive about transportation projects receiving more support in the western metro despite having to pay an increased sales tax to fund them since 2008.

Now, some say it’s the East Metro’s turn for a large project.

“If we don’t have a balanced transit system...it means we’re losing out on opportunity,” said Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury who attended Thursday’s discussion.

St. Paul City Councilmember Jane Prince, who represents the ward where the Gold Line would pass through, said many people living on St. Paul’s East Side are not able to access public transit that brings them to jobs if they don’t drive. “We need to see this come to life,” she said.

Still, some Woodbury residents voiced opposition to the bus line, mainly touching on cost and its ability to reduce traffic congestion.

Woodbury resident Steve Ellenwood said he worries about long-term financial costs that could be occurred after the project is built and doesn’t believe the Gold Line will relieve traffic congestion.

“You can can’t put enough buses on the road to take enough traffic off the road to get rid of the congestion,” Ellenwood said.

He added taxi services like Lyft and Uber could serve people better because they wouldn’t have to travel to bus stops and could be dropped off and picked up at specific locations.

Marsha Adou, a 30-year Woodbury resident, said the East Metro needs better transportation options as Minnesota’s population ages and senior adults living in places like Woodbury may not be able to make routine trips to places like pharmacies or grocery stores.

“I think it should have taken faster than 30 years,” she said. “You need to have more than just cars.

Adou, who lived in Manhattan for a number of years before coming to Minnesota, said that she feels those in opposition of the project are not accustomed to mass transit.

“It’s just fear of the unknown,” she said.

Dayton said after the roundtable discussion that he’d be open to exploring a special session to address transportation projects. 

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