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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 we'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. 

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