Residents outspoken in opposing Gateway Corridor transit proposals

“This is still America, I hope,” a visibly upset resident told the crowd at last week’s meeting with policy makers to discuss the Gateway Corridor Project’s light rail and bus rapid transit proposals

Unhappy residents and business owners arrived at Woodbury City Hall Thursday, April 10, most with prepared statements.

It was the final public meeting to discuss the project, with the “scoping process” scheduled to go on until April 16. While the meeting covered both the light rail and bus rapid transit options, the light rail option was mentioned most often.

The scoping process began in March, but this was the first chance residents had to speak directly to planners and decision-makers, rather than in written or electronic form.

Mayor Mary Giuliani of Woodbury chaired the meeting, and there were representatives from Minnesota Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Council and several cities.

“We wanted to make sure we offered an opportunity to the elected officials and decision-makers to get their voice heard by the residents, and that’s what happened,” said Lyssa Leitner, the Washington County planner on the project.

“They want to know that their voice was heard, and that’s absolutely, apparent, I think, that it was.”

On hand was a group of residents who all appeared to oppose the Gateway Corridor Project, though Leitner was clear that the written comments contained opinions both for and against construction of either a light rail or bus rapid transit line from downtown St. Paul to the Wisconsin border.

“We have definitely had a wide range of comments over the process.”

While the written comments may have reflected that range, audience comments at the meeting did not.

“This is eminent domain; this is our property” said Betty Soban of Oakdale. “I talked to six businesses on Hudson Road this morning, and nobody has ever heard of it. These are big businesses. Nobody has heard of this Corridor business.”

She went on to express concerns that decisions had already been made and questioned whether the residents’ opinions were really being heard.

Tom Gianetti, owner of the Harley Davidson Dealership in Oakdale, expressed fear of losing parking spaces outside his store if a light rail or bus rapid transit system is built on the north side of Interstate 94.

“You are now presenting the greatest threat to my business that has ever been presented in my 15 years of ownership,” he said. “The building’s parking lot wouldn’t be affected; it would pretty much be wiped out. It would affect 75 parking spaces.”

Throughout the meeting, other residents spoke out against the construction, citing environmental issues, increased traffic, as well as the difficulties experienced by University Avenue businesses during the construction of the light rail line in St. Paul.

“I think a lot of things said here about different impacts on businesses, property, the environment, safety; these are reasons why we’re doing environmental impact statements. These are things we want identified,” Andy Gitzlaff, project manager for the Gateway Corridor Project, said following the audience comments.

Although the plans won’t be finalized until July, the proposed transit route runs through Ramsey and Washington counties roughly parallel to Interstate 94.

It would include a stop location near the 3M headquarters, and would give the company’s employees a new option to get to work. There are potential stops at White Bear Avenue and Sun Ray Shopping Center in St. Paul, giving the nearby retail and office employees more transit options as well.

In Oakdale, there are possible stops at Greenway Avenue, Crossroads/Oaks Business Park and Inwood Avneue.

Doug Stand of 3M’s government affairs department said in a written statement, “We support establishing a transit line in the East Metro area.”

The Gateway Corridor group was formed in 2009. The hope is for construction to begin in 2018, with an approximate open date set for 2022.

Tim Faklis can be reached at tfaklis@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7814.

 

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