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Thursday, April 30, 2015

WC Share is Over $100,000/yr for Optional Solid Waste Management Board

"help the environment" we're told... just like CTIB, the solid waste management coordinating board is another very expensive group we're not required to be in (ie: Scott County isn't). This board that one other metro county and over 80 other MN counties aren't in is one that does very little except take care of it's own interests.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gateway Corridor Citizen Advisory Committee Chair Speaks Up on the Fundamental Flaws of the Project

Authored by Linda Stanton:

I have been a member of the Citizen Advisory committee for the Gateway for over 1 ½ years now and am the current Vice Chair, so I've been to all the hearings and meetings; heard the plans and the positives and negatives of the corridor.
The Gateway Corridor project only favors select groups of workers: county government, planners, consultants and construction workers and only addresses the needs of possibly 2% of the travelers in this area whereas 98% drive cars.
We already have a very successful Express Bus service in Woodbury that is well used. The Gateway Corridor duplicates the Express Bus services at a very high cost of $450 Million and that does not include the future cost of maintenance, repair and replacement.
The Express bus could be supplemented by the extension of selected bus routes or a circulator at much less cost.
The Gateway does not address the improvement of roads and bridges.
It will take 30 minutes to get from Manning Avenue to Union Depot – which is not a competitive time compared to auto travel even in traffic.
Other challenges:
· Studies show that about half of the people who do not have cars, don’t ride transit, but drive a borrowed car, car pool, walk or bike to where they need to go.
· Research shows that people are more upwardly mobile when they drive a car. A fixed guide way bus along Hudson road will not benefit a resident who needs to get to a job in a timely fashion that is not directly along the corridor. It will keep people “transit dependent” who could improve their economic status better by driving a vehicle, thus giving them the ability to travel to higher paying jobs. (Transit Link and other services can help those who are unable to drive).
· Much of the development, if any, that happens will either be already planned or subsidized by the government.
· The tax dollars spent on the Bus Rapid Transit will not be available for other programs and will add to our overspending problem.
· What about the traffic slowdowns that will be an everyday occurrence due to not being able to make a left turn in front of the bus or out of a driveway?
AS you can see, I favor the addition of lanes for cars and the select extension of regular route buses over the excessive spending of the Gateway Corridor. I hope the Legislature will reconsider it's support of this wasteful spending project.

Linda Stanton, Woodbury resident

(WCW stock photo of Stanton)

County and Local Legislators Seek to Boost a Fully Sponsored Fundraising Project with $189,000 Tax Dollars

Update 5-6: Due to the Woodbury City Administrator Clinton Gridley this correction piece is in place: Local Government Jepordizes Local Private Fund Raising Effort

In early April I was alerted to House File 2183 a $189,000 State bond request authored by Representative Kelly Fenton (R) to fund a woodbury city park. The park is the Madison Place Play Ground that is going to be added to the $22 million dollar tax payer funded Bielenberg Sports Center. On April 21st the Washington county board voted to use tax payer resources to lobby support to vote for HF2183/ SF2032 in a letter: page 23

I e-mailed the County board and the legislators who authored and co-signed the bills to understand the full context of the request. Stating this project was supposed to be funded by the Madison Claire Foundation as their first project according to their site.

I Stated it is NOT the role of the tax payers.. let alone State tax payers... to bailout failed fund raising efforts like this.  Going on to explain: the fund raiser herself Dana Millington said it best: “People think we have plenty of playgrounds already” in this Star Tribune article.

Also at this time I had an e-mail out to the city of Woodbury to check on the status of their end of funding the $1 million dollar park. I was Shocked to find out the fund raisers exceeded their fund raising goals by $70,000 in February after the Woodbury Polar Plunge! The Woodbury City Administrator Clinton Gridley explained the Madison Claire Foundation was about $130,000 short; However "The group has generated significant momentum coming of its partnership with Special Olympics and the first annual Woodbury Polar Plunge held at Carver Lake. This event raised more money and had more participants than any other first year Polar Plunge in Minnesota and the Special Olympics' commitment to the Madison's Place project is a minimum of $200,000..."

I e-mailed all the members of the County board and the legislators who authored the bills supporting the bond request and received no response.

Update 4-30-15: Senator Housley has removed her name from the bill based on the facts in this article and thanks to your efforts to contact her. Thank you Senator Housley for listening and doing the right thing.

Update 5-5-15:
I wrote to Representative Fenton and Lohmer:
As you can read below or see for yourself, Senator Housley has listened
to the facts and has taken her name off SF2032.If you check out the
e‑mail I sent you several days ago the attached official letter that
I got from the Woodbury City Administrator... he confirms that the
Madison Claire foundation not only met their funding goal, but exceeded
it by $70,000 after the Polar Plunge campaign in February from generous
private sector donors. (as charities should be funded)

Will you do the right thing and also take your names off the companion
Bill HF2183? If you do not, this bill will likely get rubber stamped
costing tax payers $189,000. The city administrator said it himself in
the letter I sent to you that the Madison Claire foundation would likely
not turn down the money even though they secured the funding they needed
privately. A bill that requests money for something only to have it
diverted is unethical and a violation of the voter's trust.

Democrat State Representative Joann Ward (who is on the bill and will
keep it alive) has already responded to me in a half page letter
blasting me: "Thank you for contacting me to express your opposition to
any public funding for the proposed Madison’s Place playground at the
City of Woodbury’s Bielenberg Sports Center. While I appreciate your
input, I must strongly disagree with you."

I am writing a follow up story to: County and Local Legislators Seek to
Boost a Fully Sponsored Fundraising Project with $189,000 Tax Dollars .
Please respond by Tuesday evening if you plan to either keep your name
on the bill or remove it. If you happen to not reply I'll state that you
didn't reply and direct readers to also follow the bill on whether you
change your mind or not."

Update 5-5: Representative Fenton and Lohmer both stated in e-mails that they are NOT taking their names off HF2183 despite the unethical nature of requesting funding for a project that actually doesn't need the funds to complete the project named in the request.

Something's wrong with our Government when they ignore citizens who cry foul when they're caught playing politics with tax dollars by hijacking a private fund raising effort. For what? All to make themselves look bi-partisan and generous. And apparently there's no stopping this beast even when faced with the truth that the fund raisers exceeded their goals. But why should they care? It's only tax dollars.
Please contact the County Board and the politicians who are so far as we know still un-apologetically pushing this bill forward:          651-430-6211          651-738-2425         651-430-6213              651-430-6215

Susan Kent (651) 296-4166 (D)
John Hoffman (651) 296-4154 (D)
Ann Rest (651) 296-2889 (D)

-Matt Behning
Editor at Washington County Watchdog

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

2014 County Road Project Still not Complete

10-9:  Washington County promised the Manning ave project would be done in "fall of 2014" two years ago... it's still not finished... This is the traffic back up at the intersection of Dellwood and Manning in Stillwater that has weekday commuters still waiting. (photo taken 10-2015)

5-2: The County doesn't apologize, but apparently they mistakenly told us 22 accidents and counting occurred in the County Road 15 rehab project that was originally posted to be completed by October 2014. So this is a correction to the story posted below on 4-28 (separated by dashes).

5-13: Stillwater City Council Member Tom Weidner was able to assist in getting Commissioner Kriesel to explain why CR15 project is now over 7 months past the predicted completion date. The excuse: "the delay was asphalt plants shut down last year due to cold weather "... okay, so why are we over a month into the season and still no asphalt, roundabout, trail, etc?

Side note: "spring weight limits" were only in place from March 11th to April 22nd and that was only for "mid-range over weight permits" according to MNDOT. The contractor for this pavement project is Hard Drives INC, One of the Metro's largest pavement contractors. Even if they fell under the weight limit restrictions (AFTER April 22nd) they'd still be able to drive over 50,000lbs since they have a fleet of trucks that comply with these seasonal weight limits (also according to MNDOT). Stillwater states: "The City of Stillwater follows MN/DOT seasonal load limit dates.  City of Stillwater roads are 10 tons per axel unless otherwise posted.

5-15 the pavement is finally down on the shoulder:

5:18 Confirmed that MNDOT started paving in Stillwater nearly 4 weeks before the CR15 project here got it's shoulder finally paved... oh and check out her comment about weight limits:

Washington County Public Works Pavement and Road rehabilitation is rarely in question on Washington County Watchdog. Specifically Cory Slagle, the engineering and construction manager, has been reported to be doing a great job by myself: Thank you Cory Slagle

However, on April 20th I sent an e-mail to the project manager of the Manning avenue rehabilitation project in Stillwater Mr Nik Costello asking the following questions. He passed the question on to his manager Cory Slagle and his responses are in red

1.) Is the budget for this project still $3.5 million with $550,000 in property acquisition?
   The project budget has not changed.

2.) I notice in the flyer that the project was supposed to be finished in the "Fall of 2014" and of course I don't need to explain to you that the north bound shoulder is not finished, the walking path is in what appears the initial phase, the roundabout hasn't started yet, and they're just putting in the lights on 80th street. Can you explain what the delays are about and if the contractors for the project are involved with the delays.
The early snow and cold weather last fall shut the project down.

3.) With the apparent delays is the contractor going to absorb the added costs or even be subject to reduced compensation for not even coming close to meeting the deadline?
Project costs are not finalized.  We’re working with the contractor on a revised completion schedule.

I was disappointed in the lack of concern since the project was supposed to be done over six months ago! I responded:

responding to me Mr. Slagle; attached at the very bottom of this e-mail is the response of the County Sheriff's office stating there have been 22 accidents in this construction zone that is now at least 6 months late. I travel this road several times a day and MANY a week day I see absolutely no work being done (ie: just yesterday I only saw one guy wiring the street lights). 

I find it extremely disappointing that dozens of people are getting hurt as a result of a delayed routine project. Weather explains why a project would be days late... not months and months. We had a mild winter and early spring. 

Please respond that the Washington Public Works Department is going to hold the Contractor financially responsible for this. I'm refraining from posting about this as I hope the County is going to do something more than provide excuses. Frankly, it's about time tax payers and contractors see that terms of contracts and bids actually mean something. 

If you live on this section of road and are concerned about the clear safety risks please e-mail Cory Slagle at and our County Commissioner in this area of Stillwater: This is important as no one I've contacted at the county appears to take this matter seriously yet.

-Matt Behning
Editor at Washington County Watchdog

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Gateway Corridor, Big Promises, Little Evidence

update: The corridor was shortened after Lake Elmo kicked the corridor out in 2016 and subsequently the cost has decreased from $485 million to $420 million and ridership prediction from 9,000 a day to 8,000 a day. Still unrealistic based on the data from the already constructed Red Line. Read on for details.
Since 2013 I've been watching the progress of all three transit corridors that are developing in the County as a concerned tax payer. Specifically concerned about the cost vs benefit of these projects and their reliance to be primarily funded by taxpayers who will never hear, let alone use, these bus routes. 

The Gateway Corridor is very concerning to tax payers for the following reasons

The shortest and most expensive:
Gateway Corridor is up to $485 million according to co. engineer
The Gateway Corridor (GWC) is very concerning to tax payers considering it's the most expensive line proposed in the county ($485 million according to County Engineer Wayne Sandberg in this May 2015 Pioneer Press article) and also the shortest (11.5 miles). It was determined in 2012 that bus rapid transit (BRT), specifically "alternative 3", would advance to further study according to page 22 of the Gateway Corridor Final Alternative Analysis Report

The proposed Gateway Corridor (GWC) can learn a lot from the strugling Red Line Corridor (RLC) in Apple Valley because everything from the surrounding demographics to the corridors themselves is nearly identically comparable: 

Populations are similar:
According to Woodbury (for GWC) has a slightly larger population than Apple Valley (for RLC) by 20%. However Apple Valley is 60% more densely populated because their population fits into nearly half the footprint of Woodbury (17 vs 35sq miles). I mention this because transit lines become more underutilized the less dense a population gets. People don't want to drive to a bus stop, wait for a bus, take a long ride to union depot in St. Paul having to stop ten times along the way, and wait for another bus to drive them to near to where they are going and repeat it all over for the ride home. Please read on for the sourced data supporting this statement. 

Both Transit length and areas are similar:
The GWC, like the Red Line Corridor, will be 11.5 miles long with routes into the twin cities. The GWC will likely wind down the back streets just north of the I-94 freeway. I-94 sees 90,000 - 150,000 cars a day as it gets into the cities, p.44 of 2013 MNDOT report. The Red Line travels on the shoulder of Cedar ave north into the cities and the road sees 94,000 - 128,000 cars a day according to MNDOT studies 

Feeder Lines are similar:
Woodbury, like Apple Valley is surrounded by smaller nearby cities. According the the Gateway Corridor Alternative Analysis they expect a lofty 9,000 riders a day to ride the Gateway Corridor BRT option (p. 22). 3,600 of those riders being brought in on five "feeder" bus lines from the area (p.67). These feeder lines will have a yearly operating cost of $8.8 million dollars a year, with millions in capital costs that have not been calculated yet (source is the Met Council's latest Service Improvement Plan). Neither operating or capital costs for the feeder lines is included in the price for the GWC. The RLC has 6 feeder lines (see picture below). 

Dismal 6.3% self sustainability for operating costs: 

To put this in perspective: The entire Red Line Corridor has a yearly operating cost of $3.4 million according to Metro Transit. They spent $2.5 million to run the first six months they were open according to MNDOT (p. 27). Only 6.3% of it's running costs were paid for by the riders who use the Red Line (p.27) same source. Leaving tax payers who don't ride the Red Line to cover not only 100% of the $112 million dollar capital cost, but 93.7% of it's running costs! The same can easily be expected for tax payers funding the $400+ million dollar GWC. 

Update 2015 MNDOT Guideways Status Report: says the Red Line still is only paying for 6% of their operating costs p.27

Less than 1% of Traffic is taken off the road:

Proponents of transit justify constructing these corridors claiming everyone benefits because traffic is taken off the road. However, and this is huge: The Red Line in Apple Valley, as similar as it is to the Gateway Corridor in demographics, length, traffic, and design including the feeder bus lines... has only 850 riders a day according to MNDOT! (number rounded up) (p.26) Just 850 less people on a road that sees up to 128,000 cars a day is less than 1% (source above). Yet the GWC planners predict 9,000 8,000 riders will use the GWC in 2040 which is still only 5% of the traffic on I-94 if you happen to trust their unrealistic prediction

(source: starting on p.85:

(now 8,000 riders a day since the line was shortened from 12 to 9 miles see October 2016 Gateway Corridor Meeting:

Land rights are at stake:
These ridership projections aren't the only problem with the Gateway Corridor plans. On page 115 of the Alternative Analysis Report we find that up to 80 properties will have to be "acquired". 80 businesses, homes, and private properties. A massive hit for any community to take.
Citizens left in the dark:
We're going to spend almost a half billion dollars on this bus line. We have unrealistic ridership figures. Millions in additional unaccounted costs (feeder lines). It's going to completely transform the I-94 corridor. Citizens are explained none of this in the information we are provided publicly. The scoping process, the four youtube videos they made, their "outreach", on and on... contain no info on cost, impact, or useful comparison data to best explain the route choices.   

Local evidence is all around:
Like the $112 million dollar Red Line taken just 850 people off it's 90,000-128,000 car a day road, the $350 million dollar NorthStar Line is no different.  It comes into town from outside of Minneapolis. Even with the addition of the new Ramsey station in 2012 and lowering their ticket prices (hoping for more riders and money) they saw a 17% decline in ticket sales from 2012 to 2013. The NorthStar line has consistently only been able to cover on average 16% of it's operating cost. The national average is 30% according to MNDOT. This is comparing the 2012 (p.21) and 2013 (p.24) MNDOT annual Guideway Status Reports. I know if any other market besides transit saw a 17% decline in sales it'd be front page news. 

The Gateway Corridor is one of the least promising of all the transit corridors being planned in addition to the Red Rock Corridor. Democrats and Republicans can agree: with the Gateway Corridor we are signing up for a white elephant of epic proportions as a burden for our children and grandchild to bear. 6.3% self sustaining operating costs is no where near the 30% state average. The evidence is all around, please consider these facts, share this article, and write your County Commissioners and State Representatives. 

-Matt Behning
Washington County Watchdog editor

Also check out:

The Pioneer Press is even waking up to how bad this corridor is in this piece from Bob Shaw:

Is the $485M St. Paul-to-Woodbury Gold Line bus worth it?

"At $485 million, it's a bus line that would be more expensive per passenger than any light-rail line in the state. It would be the state's second-most-expensive transportation link per passenger ever built -- exceeded only by a bus line from Apple Valley to the Mall of America."

Contact our County Commissioners:          651-430-6211         651-430-6213              651-430-6215

Think you are disconnected from the cost of the Gateway Corridor? In addition to the sales tax you pay, our property taxes (biggest revenue for county) will pay $1.25 million just for a two year study phase of the project. That could have re-paved a lot of road.    

You know it's time to Stop expanding failed transit projects like the Gateway/ Gold Line and Red Rock Corridor when not even the 2014 Democrat controlled House, Senate, and Governor's office Would increase the tax to pay for it.

The bill to Quadruple the metro sales tax to fund unsustainable transit projects like the Gateway/ Gold Line and Red Rock Corridor passed the Senate the 2015 session with 3 of our Washington County Legislators: Katie Sieben, Susan Kent, and Charles Wiger. Thankfully it didn't pass in the House. The bill is tabled until the 2016 session.

Even the Metro Transit and Met Council experts agree ALL the Gateway Corridor (feeder) routes are LOW priority for the future (2021-2030). Their recomendation is only "medium" to expand the current Park and Ride service that serves the same woodbury area.

Ask yourself: Would you rather take an express bus straight from woodbury to St. Paul on I-94 (current) or would you rather take the future Gateway Corridor that is going to make 12 stops (if you board on Manning ave) while winding down back roads to go the same 13 miles to St. Paul?

If 88% if people use transit for work according to the 2015 Metro transit Service Improvement Plan: Than why are we building a half a billion dollar BRT Gateway Corridor to duplicate our Park and Ride service that meets the needs of 88% of riders?

You know you have a terrible project idea if you pay lobbyists over $100,000/yr and have nothing to show for it.
$51 million dollars has been taken by the transit sales tax. For what? 
- We're only guaranteed $12.9 million. 
- A corridor has yet to be built. 
- At the "best" corridor plan they estimate 9,000 riders in 2030 off a freeway that has up to 150,000 cars/day right now. 
- MNDOT has a $9 million alternative to the $420M+ Gold Line
- No wonder Dakota County abandoned this scheme

The Public Speaks Up to the Undeterred Red Rock Corridor Commission

Comment on Facebook Article: The Public Speaks Up to the Undeterred Red Rock Corridor Commission

On January 23rd, 2014 the Red Rock Corridor Commission accepted public comment on the proposed 30 mile transit corridor from Hastings to Minneapolis. Specifically regarding the Alternative Analysis Study that was done in 2007 and was updated in 2013 as the Alternative Analysis Update. The project has grown attention in recent months as clear evidence of (lack of a better term) fraud has been uncovered in these studies:
-one sided surveys
-massive shifts in reports on the true reported cost 
-cherry picking data 
-and using unrealistic ridership projections (that are 4x higher than MNDOT numbers for a corridor of this projected size)
(see the below link)

I spoke of this at the Public Hearing. with sources only from the County, State, and the Commission's own studies:

All together there were seven of us from the area of Washington County to speak. Everyone spoke respectfully. Six of us were regular blue collar citizen tax payers who brought forth logical fact and evidence based comments about concerns with the corridor studies. We each commented about the ignored fraud, massive capital costs, and unsustainable running costs in our own way.

The only person to speak in support for the Red Rock Corridor was Clarence Soleim, a former Hastings city council member. He had no rebuttal for the news of the fraud or evidence proving the Alternative Analysis Update is a sound foundation to build this $150+ million dollar line on. He only spoke of how as a city council member he supported buying up property for his vision of a rail or bus line his grandson could one day ride to college on. 

I kid you not, one of the citizens, a woman from Cottage Grove who attended, approached former Councilman Soleim after the meeting and asked him if he was going to ride the Red Rock Corridor. After a couple "well ums" he admitted he wouldn't use the Corridor if it was built; not before saying, there will be "lots" of people that will use it. The same citizen asked him how we should pay for it. He stated that raising taxes would be appropriate. To which the woman said, "well then the next time you write a check paying taxes you can write in a few extra hundred and you people can pay for your own ride to college."

Commission chair Autumn Lehrke and Cottage Grove city council member Derick Lehrke were the only members who stopped to talk to the ten or so of us concerned tax payers outside the board room after the meeting. They both spoke openly about how they are also honestly very concerned about the cost of the project and that is why they worked hard to avoid the rail option. In December 2013 the Commission decided bus rapid transit is going to be the mode of transit for the RRC. Commissioner Autumn Lehrke asked what my sources were for my comments and I said they are all government sources such as MNDOT, Met Council, CTIB, etc. I emphasized the fact that every single number and fact I post has such a source and I referred her to read my comment on our page. They brought the discussion back to others in the group who I also listened too explain they are tired of seeing taxes go up to build projects like this. 

Only one reporter came to the public hearing (to my knowledge). I invited every local reporter I could find on google (about 30) to come. The reporter,  William Loeffler, was from the South Washington County Bulletin and was very nice. He seemed very interested and equally surprised about everything we had to say. Particularly about our sources (not in a bad way) so I gave him the sheet of paper I read my comment from (Same as online version with all the sources). I said he could have it for his article. I also told him I stand behind everything, it's all fact. Another citizen who commented handed her paper over and said the same. Here's his story: Red Rock transit study findings get chilly public reception at public hearing

So far all of this has fallen on the deaf ears of the Washington County Board and the Red Rock Corridor Commission. Nothing any of us said hasn't been said over and over since September. There's no excuse for this. Many people asked me "what is it going to take, what can I do." To that I respond:

We can not rely on our elected officials to do the right thing and stop the conflict of interest. We can not rely on the non-elected Red Rock Corridor Commission to do the right thing and stop the fraud that has resulted. And we can not rely on the media to do the right thing and report this massive betrayal of public trust and waste of tax payer money. We can only rely on ourselves to do the right thing and attend these meetings, tell others, and share our comments.

When no one writes a blog no one hears. When someone writes a blog  (I don't care if it's me or someone else) about 100 people "see it". When just one person "shares" the blog it bumps the views by 50% on average. When two people share it gets the views up to 300 people. I'd like to tell you what it's like to get more than two people to share a blog post but that's the most. And that's all I got. 

I don't make money from WCW and vow to never in the future. 
I will never run for elected office. 
I will never endorse someone on WCW.
I would run this anonymously to avoid any accusation of self promotion and fame seeking; however I believe that would take away from our credibility. 

Please share these articles. If you have a question ask. If you disagree, tell me where I'm wrong. We can change nothing if we are not engaged. It takes 5 minutes to read and 3 seconds to "share". 

That's my view on how to make a difference.

-Matt Behning
Washington County Watchdog

Contact our County Commissioners:          651-430-6211          651-738-2425         651-430-6213              651-430-6215