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VIEWPOINT: East metro deserves 100-year plan for transportation

The recent article in the Star Tribune, titled "East metro officials worry as jobs people migrate west" by David Peterson (Aug. 13) and the other articles about transit recommendations by Washington County that fail inspire the populace should prompt a revisit of the whole East Metro transportation planning effort. Bottom line, scrap the plans and start over.

It is clear the future trend is that workers will rely on public transportation. Today, the millennials are opting to live in central cities and use public transportation to travel to work and play. Suburban seniors are retiring, selling their cars, and moving near transit hubs. There is no reason to think this trend will change.

The Gold Line bus-rapid transit (BRT) as planned by Washington County was nothing more than shooting low and hitting the mark. Fortunately, two cities and concerned citizens held their noses placing the ill-conceived plan in jeopardy. Many officials cannot plan beyond their own mortality while a quality transportation system is a 100-year proposition. Their goal: to be there for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Thus, short-term, lowest-cost solutions are favored. A low-cost system ensures fast construction, but history has proven it will not survive to the generation of their grandchildren. We have a history of stadiums to prove that.

Thus we have a transit plan not only for the Gold Line but of the Red Rock Corridor line that is a warmed-over bus system. While the west metro is building a rail transportation system for the future, we are planning a system with the goal to be completed in the next couple of election cycles.

I have engineered transportation communications and signaling systems across North America. What most communities build is a quality system a few links at a time. As more funds come available, more is built. This also allows time for development patterns to gel especially if the right of way and station locations are defined on the yet to be constructed portion of the line.

So what should be done?

Transportation systems work best when lines are triangulated or interconnected at nodes. Interconnections at employment and market centers are the best. If the east metro wants to be more than an ill-designed, ill-served branch line off of a large west metro rail system, a triangular connection should be planned.

Step 1: Immediately start engineering a light-rail transit (LRT) line from the 3M Center corporate complex west via the Union Depot via an upgraded Canadian Pacific's Ford Plant railroad spur. It is important to buy this line before abandonment! Once it is abandoned, the NIMBYs will never let it be more than a bike trail. This will put the end of the line 0.75 miles from the Blue Line across the river. It also places in line in the major development of the old Ford Plant. A bridge, a station for the Minnesota Veteran's Home, and you have a connection to the Blue Line. Now you have LRT service from 3M to St. Paul to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and on to the Mall of America. It triangulates with the Blue and Green LRT lines and connects market and employment centers.

Step 2: At or near the 3M LRT station, construct a park-and-ride station. It will serve buses from the east metro including the Red Rock. These should be standard buses and coaches operating on streets and highways.

Step 3: Begin defining right-of-way on or adjacent to interstates 94 and 494, and U.S. Highway 61 from the 3M Center. Purchase right-of-way and station locations.

Step 4: Construct park-and-ride stations. Serve them with standard buses and coaches operating on existing highways and streets.

Step 5: As funds are available and development demands, begin extending the LRT system along both right of ways.

Yes I am proposing a 100-year transportation system.

There will be no photo ops for our elected officials because there won't be a quick solution consisting of a warmed-over bus system.

Planners and decision makers must think long term like those in the rest of the country. It will bring the east metro into a quality metrowide transportation system much appreciated and utilized by our grandchildren. Such a system will never be cheaper to build than if started today. It will certainly be cheaper than if it starts as an ill-conceived bus system and in a generation must be replaced with LRT.

Leonard J. Koehnen is a professional engineer who lives in Woodbury.