The cost of the Gold Line could increase by more than $40 million as transit planners add bike and pedestrian paths and possibly electric buses to the east metro bus-rapid transit project.
The Gold Line, which will link downtown St. Paul to Woodbury beginning in 2024, was slated to cost about $420 million to build. But a Metropolitan Council advisory committee Thursday gave transit planners the go-ahead to increase the budget to as much as $461 million.
Other cities along the line, which largely hugs Interstate 94 using a dedicated lane, include Landfall, Oakdale and Maplewood.
The increase is partly related to some cities along the line requesting bike and pedestrian paths on already-planned bridges, including a $4.8 million bridge on N. Maple Street over Interstate 94 in St. Paul and a $1 million span on Century Avenue in Maplewood near the 3M Co. headquarters.
Bike and pedestrian paths “offer a different amenity to the community beyond the Gold Line and can also make it easier for residents to get to the bus,” said Christine Beckwith, Metro Transit’s project manager for the Gold Line. Some cities along the 10-mile line will help pay for the bike and pedestrian enhancements.
In addition, planners now have the financial leeway to explore using electric buses, which are more expensive than traditional diesel vehicles, in the 12-bus Gold Line fleet. Metro Transit is now testing electric buses for the C Line rapid bus fleet in Minneapolis and the northern suburbs.
“This is a significant regulatory milestone,” said Lisa Weik, a Washington County commissioner and Gold Line Corridor Management Committee member. “This will be an amazing amenity for the east metro.”
As the Southwest and Bottineau light-rail projects inch forward in southwestern and northern Hennepin County, some officials have long felt the east side of the Twin Cities has been deprived of transit investment.
But the Gold Line, the planned Riverview streetcar route in St. Paul and the Rush Line in the northeastern suburbs represent significant investment in transit for the area.
Will Schroeer, executive director of the transit advocacy group East Metro Strong, said the Gold Line “will be an important high-quality corridor service on its own, it will also strengthen the entire east metro transit network through faster connections.”
Schroeer said “making it possible for people to walk to stations maximizes the usefulness of the investment we’re making.”
The Gold Line will be the state’s first bus-rapid transit service that will operate primarily in a dedicated lane. Bus-rapid transit features frequent service using enhanced stations equipped with heating and real-time arrival and departure information.
The Federal Transit Administration is expected to pay 45% of the cost to build the Gold Line, with local sources picking up the rest of the tab. An application for federal funding is expected to be made next year.