From Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate

The Gateway Corridor, along I-94 between Saint Paul’s Union Depot and Minnesota’s eastern border, is being studied for a future transitway (light rail, commuter rail, or bus rapid transit). 

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Based on the latest data from an Alternatives Analysis, the Gateway Corridor Commission (led by Washington County and including Ramsey County and many cities) has narrowed the possible transit modes to light rail transit (LRT) or bus rapid transit (BRT). The Commission recently chose Woodbury as the eastern end of the line. A proposal for commuter rail to Eau Claire was judged too costly. 

The latest report gives the highest rating to two Bus Rapid Transit options. One option utilizes a new dedicated lane on the frontage road (Hudson Rd.) and some travel on I-94. The other entails converting a current highway shoulder to a high occupancy toll lane (solo drivers pay, while carpools and buses are free) and creating transit stations in the median, as was done recently on I-35W south of downtown Minneapolis. A third option considered for both the BRT and LRT, on E. 7th, White Bear Ave, and Hudson Rd. appears to require far too many property acquisitions to be politically viable.

Ridership projections for light rail were considerably higher than BRT, but so were capital costs. Light rail ridership projections for Gateway were less than half the projected ridership of Southwest LRT or Central Corridor LRT.  Weekday ridership is about 30,000 riders per day on Hiawatha light rail.

Gateway Alternative

Capital Cost

(millions)

Daily Ridership

Property Acquisitions

Overall Ranking

BRT along Hudson Rd/I-94

$420 m

5,400

3

High

BRT in managed lane I-94

$590 m

4,600

5

High

BRT along E 7th, White Bear Ave/Hudson Rd

$500 m

5,800

84

Low

LRT along Hudson Rd/I-94

$980 m

9,100

8

Medium

LRT along E 7th/White Bear ave/Hudson Rd.

$1,300 m

10,100

92

Low

 The Gateway Corridor Commission anticipates releasing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Gateway Corridor and selecting a locally preferred alternative later this year, or early 2013. Regardless of the alignment or mode, the cities along the line will need to boldly embrace more density at station areas and employment growth in downtown Saint Paul.

There are other transit improvements on the table for the east metro. Metro Transit is proposing to greatly improve service on four east metro bus corridors. The concept, known in other cities as Rapid Bus, would improve signage and the passenger waiting environment, while providing faster service through traffic signal priority, low-floor buses, and off-board fare payment. Metro Transit's study includes these east metro corridors, all of which connect to downtown Saint Paul: 1) East Seventh Corridor to Maplewood/North St. Paul, which is also part of the Gateway Corridor study area, 2) the Robert Street Corridor to West Saint Paul/Inver Grove Heights, 3) the Snelling Avenue Corridor to Roseville, and 4) the West 7th Street Corridor to the Mall of America. As with the Gateway Corridor, additional funding will be needed for implementation.

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