If Gateway Corridor buses are one day going to link Woodbury and downtown St. Paul, there must be a convenient way for riders to reach the stations, residents along the proposed route said last week.

Residents of St. Paul’s east side voiced support and concerns for the project during a Thursday, Aug. 7, public hearing at St. Paul’s Conway Recreation Center. Sixteen people rose from the group of about 60 to speak, many of whom urged Gateway Corridor Commission members in attendance to ensure the proposed bus-rapid transit system connecting Woodbury and St. Paul’s Union Depot to be a 24-hour operation accessible by a feeder system.

Betsy Leach, a member of St. Paul’s District 1 Community Council, said a two-way, all-day service is vital for many east side residents who are saddled with high transportation costs.

“The level of service in this regard is critical,” she said.

East side community members recently held a meeting to discuss the importance of a shuttle-bus service to access a possible Gateway line, said St. Paul resident Lucy Young.

“We hope that we can  be helped,” she said, calling for 24/7 service that caters to second- and third-shift workers.

Conceptual drawings released at the meeting outline a feeder bus system around Woodbury and 3M headquarters in Maplewood. Routes running as far south as Bailey Road via Woodlane Drive and Lake Road via Radio Drive would bring riders to Gateway stations, according to preliminary diagrams.

“We anticipate a fairly vigorous bus network,” said Gateway Corridor communications consultant Beth Bartz.

Existing Metro Transit express buses would continue to run after Gateway opens, she added.

Not everyone at the meeting backed the project, including two Woodbury residents. That included Linda Stanton, who said the project won’t bring economic development to St. Paul’s east side and it would keep residents transit-dependent instead of paving a way toward vehicle ownership.

“Let’s move forward, not backward,” she said.

Another Woodbury resident, however, backed the plan and called on Gateway commissioners to ensure it serves the needs of people living in neighborhoods – not just those at the far ends of the route.

“They need safe transportation,” Nalani Desjardins said.

Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, who serves on the Gateway commission and leads its policy advisory committee, led Thursday’s hearing. She said the aspect of feeder routes was a prominent theme among those who spoke at the meeting.

“That we continue to make sure we look at the guideway in the context of a whole system,” Stephens said.

Thursday’s meeting was part of the project’s draft environmental impact statement process. Gateway Corridor commissioners in July settled on the locally preferred alternative (LPA), which calls for bus-rapid transit as the preferred mode of transportation and route that traverses Oakdale and Lake Elmo before dipping into Woodbury at Lake Elmo Avenue/Settlers Ridge Parkway.

Comments taken at Thursday’s meeting allowed resident input on the LPA in advance of a Sept. 11 policy advisory committee hearing, where a final recommendation will be made and forwarded to the Washington and Ramsey county regional railroad authorities.

Before that, the project will go before cities that would be impacted by the route, including Woodbury.

Stephens said Woodbury City Council will discuss Gateway at an Aug. 27 workshop and could take action on plans in September.