BLOG: $485 Million 12-mile Dedicated Bus Roadway Wins Republican Support


Rep Kelly Fenton MN House

Bills to spur the St. Paul to Woodbury dedicated busline route– known as the Gateway Corridor– are moving along at the Capitol in the Republican-majority House.  Rep Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, is the Chief Author of HF 1616 and HF 1617 which allocate $3 Million from the state’s General Fund to the Met Council for the next phase of the $485 Million transitway.  An additional $2 Million was previously allocated by the DFL-led legislature in 2014.  The House bill has five Democrat co-sponsors and the Senate Companion Bills, SF 1463 and SF 1464, have Republican support in co-sponsor Sen Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point. The Chief Author of the Senate bills is Sen Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, who has been a longtime supporter of the project.

Sometimes called the “Gold Line,” the Gateway Corridor was one of eleven transit projects across the country which President Obama promised to fast-track last spring as a part of his $302 Billion “Building 21st Century Infrastructure” plan.  At the time, light rail was still being considered as an option, but last summer a decision was made to switch to bus rapid transit for the 12-mile route.  While it’s called “rapid transit,” current plans call for up to eleven stops between downtown St. Paul and Woodbury which call into question whether it will provide faster service than the current express bus service for the area.

The Gateway Corridor Commission was established in 2009 with an initial $1.74 Million dedicated to study a route.  Since then, the Commission has brought in leaders from the St Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and the Woodbury Chamber to sell the plan.  Representatives from both Chambers testified at the March 25th Government Operations and Elections Policy committee hearing where  HF’s 1616 & 1617 were passed through committee and moved to the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Committee.  Two other bills, $3 Million in funding for each of the Bottineau and Southwest light rail lines, were voted down by the Republican majority on the committee.

In a letter to the editor in the Woodbury Bulletin last week, a constituent of Rep Fenton’s lamented that the Representative had gone back on campaign promises to cut spending  and focus on core transportation infrastructure by supporting state-funding of the Gateway Corridor.  According to the letter, Rep Fenton felt pressured by the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests to lead on the project.  During her campaign, the first term representative promised to “work to prevent federal transportation dollars from being diverted away from maintaining and improving our core transportation infrastructure.”  Rep Fenton recently addressed the Woodbury Chamber calling the new line a “cost effective approach” and touted the bipartisan effort.

Last summer the cost of the project was estimated to be $400 Million, but the most recent estimates in the Minnesota Senate have ballooned to $485 Million with 45% of the funding from the federal government,  45% from the counties,  and 10% from the state.  Total cost to taxpayers in Minnesota is estimated to be $267 Million, not including the ongoing operation costs paid for by Metro Transit.

Congresswoman Betty McCollum has been the primary driver of the project in DC and recently took a bipartisan bus ride to promote the corridor along with new Met Council Chair Adam Duininck and key legislators.

It’s likely if the Fenton bill can pass through the Republican-led House it would probably be approved by the DFL-led Senate where Sen Kent has been working for many years toward funding the project.  It’s highly likely that the Governor– who has his own $2.8 Billion plan for metro-transit projects as part of his $11 Billion Transportation package– would sign off on the plan supported by President Obama.