Oakdale Residents Speak Out Against the $485 Million Bus Route

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Oakdale residents are in uproar over proposed changes to 4th St.  In a room packed full of over one hundred attendees, an employee for Washington County, Lyssa Leitner, attempted to walk through the proposals for the Gateway Corridor and its impact on 4th St in Oakdale.  The Gateway Corridor is a 12 mile bus route from Woodbury to St. Paul projected to cost $485 million. Sometimes called the “Gold Line,” the Gateway Corridor is 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. The meeting took place in Oak Meadows Senior Community in Oakdale, and while many senior community residents did attend, the vast majority of attendees were locals.

The presentation was quickly interrupted by a number of angry members in the audience.  Leitner explained they were there to “get questions, not opinions” but the audience outbursts were too frequent to continue on with the planned agenda.

Local resident Doug Nelson interjected, saying everyone there had “high anxiety” and asking if it is, “too late to stop the project.”  Leitner said she would address the issue at the end of the meeting.  Nelson responded “that’s why we’re all here, answer the question.”  The audience agreed with that sentiment.   Leitner explained that nothing is official, saying it is, “not a done deal until the shovel hits the ground.”

Nelson questioned the role of the Metropolitan Council, bluntly exclaiming, “I have this sinking feeling that it’s going to be jammed down our throat by the Met Council.”  Nelson is referring to his concern that their project will have to fit within the Met Council’s agenda regardless of citizen input.  Leitner said that while the project is locally driven, that in the end it does have to be “turned over” to the Met Council.

Another local resident expressed concern over his property value, angrily explaining, “I was planning on retiring, but my property value was hit… now it’s going to get hit again.” He then went on to say Leitner’s behavior was “insulting” leading to a heated exchange that resulted with Leitner in tears.

Many of the attendees questioned why 4th St was chosen over some of the streets more heavily populated by businesses.  Leitner did not go in to much detail behind the planning but stated simply, “The Commission looked at many options and 4th St was chosen.”  Other locals feel that the project will change the calm suburban neighborhood, saying, “I didn’t move here for this.”

Another presenter was Paul Reinke, an Oakdale City Council member who sits on the Gateway Corridor Commission and explained that there are still alternatives on the table, including south side bus lanes and not building anything at all, but explained that the Met Council says they, “must consider what will happen” if they choose to build nothing.

An Oak Meadows staffer asked why The Commission won’t try “adding some busses for a few years” to see if they would have enough ridership to make the investment worthwhile.  Leitner was receptive to the suggestion, stating, “We could.” Staffers also shared their concern over the safety of the residents of the senior facility, explaining that busses going both ways down the middle of 4th St could be dangerous to some of the more easily confused residents.  They also explained the facility needs a generator if construction is going to take place, due to frequent power outages when previous construction had taken place.

Some questioned why they had not been told about this project earlier.  Leitner explained that this project had been in the press “for years.”  Cynthia, who was in attendance but asked us not to report her last name, said that she is “well informed and well read” but that she knew nothing of this project until recently.  Multiple other residents shared her sentiments.  The Oak Meadows staff pointed out that the facility had not been previously notified of this project, and Leitner apologized.

Leitner said “the intent is not to take away cars” and explained that while they may disagree on what “cost-effective means” that the project would not happen unless it was indeed, “cost effective.”

At the end of the meeting residents vocalized that they would like to have more of these meetings, suggesting that they run monthly.  Many congregated outside of the building to continue discussing their anger over this project.  Reinke is receptive to the idea of monthly citizen-input meetings.

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