For $500 million, your bus commute from Woodbury can be slower

Gold Line estimates put 8,600 passengers on the bus Monday through Friday — in 2040 — at a today cost sniffing $500 million.

Gold Line estimates put 8,600 passengers on the bus Monday through Friday — in 2040 — at a today cost sniffing $500 million.

Woodbury might as well be Eden within Linda Stanton's beating heart. 

"I'm not a country girl. I'm not a city girl. I'm a suburban girl," the 63-year-old Stanton says. "I've always looked to the suburbs. I love it here."

Stanton's passion for her home turf helps fuel resistance to Metro Transit's Gateway Corridor Gold Line, a bus service planned to run along Interstate 94 between downtown St. Paul and the Woodbury/Lake Elmo area. It's scheduled to launch in 2022.

And at almost $500 million, it would be the most expensive bus line ever built in Minnesota.

Gold Line support comes from folks in high places, like the offices of Met Council chairman Adam Duininck and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. A well-oiled PR campaign argues that the route will decrease road congestion, increase transit for low-income workers and seniors, and spur economic development on the East Side.  

The "rapid transit" would make about 12 stops along its own exclusive, two-lane roadway. But it's already estimated to run six to seven minutes slower, from end to end, than the existing bus service that requires 34 minutes to take passengers from end to end. It's predicted to carry 8,600 weekday users by 2040. 

Visualize it as the east metro's version of the Red Line, a rapid-bus service on Cedar Avenue from Apple Valley to the Mall of America. That line was built for $112 million. Today, daily ridership averages less than 900.

If the line is built, 55 percent of the funding will come from cobbling state, city, and county monies. The feds promise the remaining 45 percent, but with a condition. The project needs to advance.

Otherwise, as state Sen. Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury) warned at a meeting earlier this month, "They are going to send it to Utah."

But Stanton scoffs at that argument.  

"Saying we need to do this otherwise some of the money will go away — really?" she says. "Between cost and how it'll be imposed on these beautiful communities that don't want it and won't use it, what makes it even worse is the people pushing for it. They come across as they think they know better than everybody else. That they should be making decisions, telling the people who actually live there you need this."

Stanton says she sees too many flaws in the plan, and she's yet to see data supporting the expense. Before she retired in October, the social worker's clientele was the elderly. She's still dialed in with that demographic.   

"They're not going to take a bus to Cub or Walgreens when they have a car or someone drives them," says Stanton. "They came to live out here for peace and quiet, not some new bus where they're going to feel vulnerable. If you're a person, say, in your 80s, and need a bathroom nearby, you're not taking the bus one day to downtown St. Paul."  

Who's it going to be built for then? asks Stanton.     

"Developers, consultants, politicians. Those come to mind first," she says. "You know, insiders."

The skepticism is shared. The Lake Elmo City Council told Gold Line planners to go away in January, voting to disallow building two of the transit stations there. That same month, about 60 protesters crashed what was supposed to be a mellow meet-and-greet with legislators at Oakdale City Hall.   

The timing couldn't be worse. Legislators are being asked to appropriate $3 million so Gold Line plans continue without hiccup.