The $2 billion Riverview streetcar line in St. Paul took an important step this week when the project was accepted into the Metropolitan Council’s long-term transportation plan.

The move means Riverview will qualify to apply for critical funding from the Federal Transit Administration to pay for nearly half its capital costs.

“This major milestone for Riverview comes after years of planning and engagement with our communities,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, chairman of the county’s regional railroad authority which has been leading the project.

The nearly 12-mile line would connect Union Depot in downtown St. Paul to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America in Bloomington in a trip that would take 44 minutes.

The streetcar will operate largely in traffic along W. 7th Street, travel over the Mississippi River on a new bridge and through a tunnel beneath Fort Snelling, connect with the Blue Line light-rail route at the Fort Snelling stop, then travel to the airport and megamall. Of its 20 stations, 11 will be shared with the Green and Blue light-rail lines.

Riverview is expected to begin passenger service in 2031.

Now that the project is officially part of the council’s 2040 Transportation Policy Plan, it will enter a three-year environmental analysis phase where plans are further refined.

This will include assessing how the project would affect the transit corridor’s roads, intersections, natural resources, cultural amenities and Mississippi River. Contracts will be solicited for engineering design, station-area planning, project management and community outreach during the second quarter of this year and awarded by midyear.

At a Met Council Transportation Committee meeting earlier this week, council member Jennifer Munt asked why the Riverview route does not serve the mixed-use redevelopment of the Ford site. Nick Thompson, director of Metropolitan Transportation Services, said the current corridor was selected because it was projected to get the highest ridership.

Riverview is expected to provide 20,400 daily passenger trips by 2040.

Thompson noted that additional transit investment will be needed to serve the Ford site.