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Viewpoints on Gold Line stack up

As the Gold Line bus-rapid transit (BRT) project revs up, residents’ viewpoints are as well.

More than a half-dozen locals weighed in on the project during a Nov. 10 public hearing in Woodbury. Those opposing the project touched on concerns about diminishing property value, noise, disruption and project costs, while supporters argued it would create more economic opportunities, reverse-commute options and enhancements to existing bus service.

The Gold Line would connect downtown St. Paul with its eastern suburbs along bus-only lanes, passing through Maplewood, Landfall, Oakdale in Woodbury near Interstate 94. Buses arrive at stations frequently throughout the day and riders pay on the platform before boarding.

The Gateway Corridor Commission, a body of public officials and other state agencies charged with planning the project, needed to find an ending route for the line’s eastern end after Lake Elmo’s withdrew from the project in January.

Last month, the commission selected a new route in Oakdale and Woodbury as one of five feasible alternatives. Officials estimate the costs to be about $450 million for the route that will require a new bridge to connect both cities over I-94 on Bielenberg Drive and Helmo Avenue.

The commission also considered another route that would terminate near at Oakdale Shopping Center, which would slash an additional $50 million off of its costs but would have fewer projected riders by 2040 compared to the Bielenberg-Helmo route.

Woodbury resident Peter Grasse said he feels BRT will create an economic boost for the east side of town and provide reverse-commuting options for people living in urban areas who don’t own cars.

“I think we need to think about the perspective of people coming for jobs,” said Grasse, a retired 3M Co. worker. “This option greatly helps people get to jobs we have in Woodbury.”

Chase Lemke, a University of Minnesota student who lives near the campus, also spoke Thursday evening on what he feels the importance is of public transit options for connecting the cities and suburbs.

The cost of parking in the city tends to be a deterrence for car ownership, he said, so he relied on Metro Transit’s Red Line, which connects the Mall of America to Apple Valley, when he went home to visit family in Lakeville.

While in high school, he relied on public transit to commute to and from a job that’s helped him afford college, Lemke added.

Officials have said federal dollars and local sales tax would cover most of the Gold Line’s cost, with 45 percent of funds coming from the federal sources and 35 percent from the five-county metro’s sales tax. Ramsey and Washington counties would pitch in 5 percent of costs and the remaining 10 percent would come from the state.

For longtime skeptic Linda Stanton, the costs simply aren’t worth it compared to possible alternatives.

Stanton added that she still feels planners haven’t addressed the project’s costs and return on investment.

"That's probably my biggest objection," she said. "I think we could do a lot better.

Gold Line opponents also called for examining cheaper solutions like increased express bus service because it wouldn’t require new infrastructure.  

"I have a feeling that the price tag would be much less than the millions and millions of dollars that we're seeing by installing this BRT," Oakdale resident Linda Pederson said.  

Lynne Marcus of Woodbury said the existing express lines don’t work for her and isn’t flexible enough when people need to leave work early during the day or stay late after buses stop running.

“There are many times when I wish I was taking advantage of it and haven't been able to,” she said. “I'm sorry that this is not able to make everybody happy.”

Residents living near Bielenberg Drive said they already have to contend with the rapid development occurring in the area, leading to added congestion and traffic noise.

George Broshears said he remembers riding his bike as a child down Bielenberg Drive when it was a dirt road and never would have imagined the amount of development that’s occurred in recent decades.

He owns a home near where BRT busses might travel and said he’s concerned the Gold Line will have a negative impact on his property value.

Broshears added he also worries about a potential uptick in crime rates near bus stations. His neighbor, Julie Domke, said any increase in crime would be alarming for her.  

Washington County transportation manager Jan Lucke said many of the written responses to project planners indicate general support from commenters. She also pointed to a recent Washington County survey indicating residents desire more transit options.  

The commission expects to begin analyzing capital, maintenance and operating costs, as well as estimates on ridership following the end of the Nov. 13 public comment period.

Officials plan to solidify the BRT route by the end of the year and anticipate a 2023 opening for the Gold Line.  

Those interested in commenting can visit the Gateway corridor Commission's website or by emailing Washington County Planner Lyssa Leitner at lyssa.leitner@co.washington.mn.us.

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