East Metro’s transit time is coming

As long time readers of NewsCut might recall, I’ve wanted mass transit to the Woodbury bureau almost since the day I moved to the great state of Minnesota 26 years ago. As cornfields became shopping centers and neighborhoods, “your time will come” became the mantra of transit experts who had other priorities than the Gold Line, the bus rapid transit route that will connect Woodbury — which has no bus service after 7:50 a.m. — with the civilized world.

But years came and years went and nothing much happened as the state reneged on a plan to help fund the project with bonding, two major transit lines were built, a regional transportation funding scheme came and went, forcing Washington and Ramsey County to try to go it alone.

That’s usually a way to kill a good idea, but the two counties have, to their credit, persisted in the wake of opposition to any threat to Minnesota’s status as a transit backwater.

Today, however, the Metropolitan Council announced that the Federal Transit Administration has “granted” the Gold Line entrance to the “development phase of the federal New Starts program, which funds major transit projects across the country. The designation means local spending will now be eligible for potential matching federal funds in the future,” the Council said in a news release.

Most of the line will run along I-94 before ducking (barely) into Woodbury. Originally it was to include Lake Elmo, but the community voted two years ago to reject the bus line because it would lead to higher-density development in the city. Since then, homes have sprouted so quickly along where the bus was going to run that it might as well be called North Woodbury. Those commuters are on their own.

Despite today’s announcement, nothing’s going to happen soon. In fact, the completion date is now 2024, two years later than the projected timeline just a couple of years ago of a 2022 opening. Even that thwarted my dream of being able to take transit to work (2022 is well after my retirement), and now there’s a slightly less chance that it occurs in my lifetime.

But, the Star Tribune noted today, that doesn’t mean that action isn’t already happening. Mass transit is as much about economic development as it is moving people. A developer has modified original plans for an office park at the 494/94 intersection and shifted to a mixed-use, transit friendly development, just the kind of thing that scared Lake Elmo but keeps Oakdale chugging along.

“Basically, what we’re looking at is anywhere between 700 and 900 units of multifamily housing, around 150,000 square feet of commercial office and maybe 20,000 to 25,000 square feet of retail in this area,” Oakdale Community Development Director Bob Streetar told the paper.

That’s quite a vote for a project that is still years away.

“All you have to do is look at the current competition for the Amazon headquarters to see that large employers want to locate near modern, efficient transit systems. In today’s world the commute goes both ways,” Washington County Commissioner Stan Karwoski said in a news release. “You have people from the East Metro traveling into the core cities for jobs, as well as people in the rest of the region coming east to work at companies like 3M, or in the medical and hospitality industries in Washington County.”