Planners of the $450 million Gateway Corridor bus rapid-transit line — which may be dubbed the Gold Line by the end of this year — have settled on a route that mostly runs parallel to Interstate 94 from the eastern edge of Woodbury to St. Paul's Union Depot.
Four variations to the route had been considered, including one that wound north on White Bear Avenue through St. Paul's East Side before turning on E. 7th Street and another that ran more along the south side of the interstate. The less-obtrusive route on the north side of the interstate calls for the buses to eventually cross the Kellogg Boulevard bridge, slated for possible reconstruction sometime next decade, which could coincide with the Gateway Corridor's projected opening date in 2022.
The routing decision Thursday by an advisory panel of the Gateway Corridor Commission comes less than two weeks after it was decided that the corridor's transit mode would be bus rapid-transit, rather than light rail. The project aims to ease congestion along I-94.
"The different routes were similar in technical scope and cost," said Scott Beauchamp of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, a panel member. "We chose to adopt a route that provides the best opportunities for long-term job access and economic development."
Settling on the route and the mode of transit is a key step in having the Gateway Corridor included in the Metropolitan Council's 2040 Transportation Policy Plan, due to be completed by the end of this year. That, in turn, keeps the Gateway Corridor near the top of a long list of state and federal funding priorities, said Andrew Gitzlaff, Gateway's project manager.
"What it really means is a regional endorsement of the plan," Gitzlaff said, adding that it will serve as a basis for how the long planning process moves ahead.
The route could be altered as plans come more into focus, said Lisa Weik, Washington County commissioner and chairwoman of the Gateway Corridor Commission.
Just as cost was a deciding factor in choosing bus rapid-transit over light rail — the bus option is about half the price, she said — the route running north of I-94 offers the advantage of being mostly in undeveloped areas in Oakdale and Lake Elmo. "I think it's an exciting route in which to contemplate station design, being around areas that are mostly green fields," she said.
Deciding on the route is a major milestone, she added, and will help speed its development.
President Obama, in a May 12 speech in Tarrytown, N.Y., pushing Congress for more transit funding, announced that two Minnesota transit projects — the Gateway Corridor and the Southwest light-rail project — were among 11 nationwide being added to the "dashboard" list for expedited federal reviews and permitting.
Instead of going through a sequential review by myriad agencies that sign off on such massive transit projects, Weik said, the "dashboard" designation means several agencies could examine the project at once, greatly streamlining the bureaucratic process.
"A three-year process could be shortened to, say, 18 months," Weik said. That's exciting, that's why it's an important designation."
There are 12 stations proposed along the route, including stops at 3M headquarters and the Sun Ray Shopping Center.
It begins with a station southeast of the Manning Avenue/I-94 interchange in Woodbury, where plans are still in the works for a 550-vehicle Metro Transit park-and-ride ramp. The ramp is one piece of a 600-acre industrial, retail and residential complex that has been earmarked for development.
From there, the route heads over an I-94 overpass north onto Lake Elmo Avenue N. It then heads west on Hudson Boulevard, and includes a stop at Inwood Avenue N., site of a major shopping complex. That is just across the freeway from the former, but soon-to-be-redeveloped State Farm headquarters.
Plans were approved this week by the Woodbury Planning Commission for a major redevelopment of the nearly 100-acre State Farm site, but it's not clear whether the transit station would eventually be relocated closer to that location in the final plan.