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Monday, August 21, 2017

County Resorts to Propaganda Videos as Half Billion in Bus Corridors Continue Downward Spiral

To date Washington County tax payers have paid $51 million dollars for bus rapid transit corridors (yet to be built) with just the extra sales tax we pay. Millions more has been siphoned from our County's general fund to pay for the County's share of corridor studies. Additional hundreds of thousands have been spent paying lobbyists and "Communication services" to spin figures to make the project appear like it will be worth it's $420 million dollar price tag. This year we paid $150,000 to a company who's yet to work miracles and turn this lead into Gold. Our proposed Gold Line/ Gateway Corridor is such a bad idea that it  has not had direct state funding from the legislature since 2011 (also our proposed Red Rock Corridor). Last year we paid $550,000 to a similar company to rebrand and kick the dust off the proposed
Red Rock Line in South Washington County... it failed miserably as the BRT corridor has been downgraded to just bus route. The County corridor planner Lyssa Leitner appears to have been let go over the disaster as the county refuses to respond on her removal and a new corridor planner Hally Turner taking her place. The first corridor planner for the route, Andy Gitzlaff, was also apparently let go for his failure planning and now works for Ramsey County. The likely cause was the $6.45 million dollar bus stop he oversaw with just 8 riders a day according to the Pioneer Press 2017:  Few riders using Newport's $6.45 million bus station

The Gold line has had cities like Afton and Lake Elmo drop out and even Metro Transit show it can build an express bus route at a cost of just $9 million dollars and do the same job as the $420 million dollar proposed Gold Line. The facts are against the Gold Line and Red Rock Line. It appears the corridor planners are resorting to pure propaganda. They're no stranger to doing this with over a dozen youtube videos posted claiming everything from how people will become more healthy to the elderly will regain freedom and independence (Completely ignoring the fact the elderly can get door to door service with Metro Mobility). The videos lack any reference to cost or data to back up claims it will be efficient winding down on the shoulders of back roads of I-94 to St. Paul from Woodbury at a cost of nearly $10 million a year to operate. (Claiming the shoulder is a dedicated lane)

In addition to ignoring hard data in their youtube videos the planners take trips around the country to tour transit corridors in completely different settings than ours to film more propaganda videos. Places like Cincinnati, Washington D.C., California, and Oregon. In 2014 they traveled to Orange Line in L.A. with millions more in population compared to our area around the Gold line. They came home and made a youtube video claiming there's "success" in LA's corridor and use and therefore we should build our corridor too showing no supportive data. Ignoring the fact Gas costs almost twice as much out there, they have a multiple times more densely populated city, horrific congestion, and the weather serves better for walking to a station, waiting, and then walking to your destination from the stop. Try that in below freezing.

Much different Emerald Route in Oregon
The latest propaganda video was posted this month after their trip to Oregon and again it's another video trying to show how a very different route across the Country somehow proves success will happen with our Gold Line. No comparative data at all. The corridor is the Emerald route, a 12 mile route between Downtown Eugene and Downtown Springfield Oregon. With 25 stations the "success" of this Line is because they offered FREE rides the first year it was open! When the first four mile stretch opened it served 2,700 riders a weekday (weak) and the Gold line thinks it will get 8,000! Today the Emerald route is more popular because it serves students and residents on one side of the Williamette River to bring them to destinations on the other side of the river.
The Emerald Line is in the HEART of the University of Oregon in Eugene with 25,000 students, most students are without a car. The route goes on one of the most densely populated streets in the State (a walkable community) to another one of the most densely populated cities in Oregon, downtown Springfield. The streets compare with those on our Green line between the twin cities in MN, NOT the Gold line running down back roads in non-walkable communities by the freeway. The Emerald line directly passes 4 public schools, 2 public libraries, a huge state college, a massive hospital complex (Riverbend), a few hotels, many apartment buildings, a big mall (Gateway), stores like Target (two of them), Walmart, Khol's, Hobby Lobby, Best Buy, Staples, whole foods, an Arena, movie theater, an event's center, and countless fast food and outlet stores. The Gold Line winds down back roads next to Interstate 94. Leaving from an old shopping center in Woodbury away from residential areas, goes through a couple blocks of stores in Oakdale, goes to a crime infested Sun Ray shopping center, and down a slow ride to the Union Depot that's down by the river and not in the heart of St. Paul. (source google earth the Emerald Line's route) The Emerald line uses truly exclusive bus only lanes, raised station stops with level platforms, programmed "signal priority" traffic lights, and it goes in a straight line down 60% dedicated lanes (with a turn into Springfield). The Gold line will ride down existing road's shoulders. Lastly, the Emerald Line is in such a densely populated area they don't even have park and ride stations (like MN's green line). To compare the $95 million dollar Emerald Line to the $420 million dollar Gold Line is like showing the impressive features of a $100,000 Porsche on the best track in Europe to a $500,000 Indy car to ride down horrible city streets, stopping every block for a stop light to be completely inconvenient and costly. The Emerald line now claims to serve millions a year, at a known 1/4 of the cost, to an ideal densely populated
community and shopping and dense residential areas that can easily walk to the stops. Students in Oregon probably like being able to hop on the Emerald Line and get to shopping in Springfield. The Gold line has unrealistic ridership claims serving hardly any riders who could walk to a station, serves a long ride to St. Paul where many Washington County residents don't find a need to go (shopping and work in WC). It's an inconvenient mode of travel compared to driving or riding Express Bus. Last year a transit planner said it the best: "Auto is still the primary way to get around and that's not going to change" -Steve Wilson Gold line Transit Planning moderator Speaking about Met Council's latest study revealing only 3% of metro commutes are on Mass Transit. 

At what point will the County realize that BRT belongs in dense urban areas and not in areas with single family homes and successful park and ride express bus that rides on the freeway? The least the County could do is save tax payers $250,000 a year between the Gold and Red Rock and stop funding the Propaganda machine that feeds us hype from across the country.