Students gather Gateway Corridor information

Gateway Corridor logoThe best decisions are made based on information, but getting information can be expensive.

To help with the cost and add to the value, Humphrey School of Public Affairs students are gathering information to help inform decisions on the Gateway Corridor, the St. Paul-to-Wisconsin border transit corridor along Interstate 94.

Since fall 2010, the Gateway Corridor Commission has been leading an Alternatives Analysis Study to determine the best transit method, estimated ridership, potential routes and estimated construction and operation costs. Depending on federal and local funding, a new transitway in the Gateway Corridor could be operating by 2022.

Many decisions must be made before then, which is where the state and Local Economic Development Workshop students from the Humphrey school come inby taking on the topic “Station Area Development and Community Connections along the Gateway Corridor.” Student groups have each taken on a client in the community and are gathering information on proposed stations at St. Paul’s Mounds Boulevard, Maplewood/3M, and Oakdale/Oaks. A fourth group is gathering information corridor-wide to determine how people will get to and use the transit corridor, especially if they walk or ride bicycle.

Jeremy Jenkins, a Woodbury resident and a Humphrey student completing a masters of public affairs degree, is part of the fourth group. He has been researching the corridor-wide questions of how to connect people to the transit station, and help them negotiate the last half-mile or mile from the transitway to home, school or workplace? It’s one thing to drop people off at a transit station, but Jenkins’ group is asking “What then?”

The group has interviewed project stakeholders, such as business and civic leaders, reviewed best practices from other transitways and gathered data from geographic information systems. The students are also talking with transit planners, such as those from the Metropolitan Council and other transit lines, Jenkins said.

“Our hope is to be as useful as we can,” he said. This is “a chance to do something tangible and something that I could do that definitely affected my community,” he added, rather than the more theoretical study in other coursework.

Oakdale Community Development Director Bob Streetar has participated in a number of student projects at the Humphrey school, and was familiar with the process when approached about a transit station in Oakdale.

“It is very common, and it is very valuable to have students who are knowledgeable to work on a particular project,” he said.

The students act as consultants, defining the problem, gathering information, and creating a vision, Streetar said.

“It’s very helpful for the city, because it is our first look at what some of the issues should be. What they’ve looked at has been one of the big ones, (which is) reverse commuters.”

Another question to ask regarding the Maplewood stop is how to make it accessible to all residents, not just 3M employees.

Washington County Commissioner Lisa Weik is also interested in the distance to and from the transit stops, what she calls “the first leg and the last leg” of the journey. Weik, who chairs the Gateway Corridor Commission, is excited about the contributions that the students will make to the project.

“This was new to me. I think it will bring a lot of value to the Gateway study. I think it will be a ‘deeper dive,’” she said.

While a study is underway to meet federal standards, the students bring additional data to the process, Weik said.

“I think that just makes it more robust,” she said.

For example, students are asking about placing a library facility at the park-and-ride as a transit station amenity. And when students envision such an amenity, they also research how to fund it.

Streetar noted that the students are encouraged to be creative, telling them to “talk about what could be. We get a better product” with the students.

“Once we do formal planning, I always use what the students did as a piece of the overall plan,” he said. “I think students like that, because it is real world stuff.”
The students will report findings to their clients, and might present to the Gateway Corridor Commission, which will be another lesson for them.