The cost of the Gold Line bus-rapid transit project in the east metro is increasing by about $70 million to $532 million, to provide for more parking and development along the 10-mile route.

The addition of a $58 million park-and-ride facility and Washington County service center at the Interstate 494 station in Woodbury, the line's eastern terminus, comes after the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) requested more parking for the project. The FTA also required $13 million for a contingency fund, which may or may not be used.

The FTA is expected to pay 45% of the cost to build the line, a mostly dedicated bus lane along Interstate 94 connecting downtown St. Paul to Woodbury via Maplewood, Landfall and Oakdale. Passenger service is expected to begin in 2024.

On Tuesday, the Ramsey County Board and its railroad authority approved its share of the funding, which will not exceed $128 million or 24% of the project's total cost.

Washington County and a joint powers board for the project will consider the funding for the project later this month.

Last year, an FTA review of the project resulted in a "medium low" rating, which removed it from contention for critical federal funding.

Representatives from the Metropolitan Council, which will build and operate the line, worked with the FTA over the past year to allay its concerns, adding more parking at two of the line's four planned park-and-ride facilities.

At the I-494 station, 312 parking spots were added to complement the $40 million Washington County service center. The cost of the service center will be shared by the county, which will cover 55%, and the FTA.

The Washington County center, which will include driver's license services, will replace an aging Woodbury facility with limited parking that was once a library, said Don Theisen, the county's public works director.

"The Gold Line will feature all-day service for folks who need to access county services," Theisen said, adding that county employees won't need a car to get to work.

In addition to the Woodbury park-and-ride, the Met Council added another 38 parking spots at the planned Helmo Avenue station in Oakdale.

Transit planners are confident the addition of parking and contingency funds will boost the project's rating with the FTA and qualify it for federal money.

"There's an equation, a model, they have for park-and-ride stalls which really do drive ridership, and the ridership makes you more competitive for federal dollars," said Christine Beckwith, Gold Line project manager.

The Met Council initially focused more on setting aside land near stations for transit-oriented real estate development. But the new configuration is a "nice balance," Beckwith said.

Beckwith said the transit investment will help fuel an economic recovery as the COVID-19 pandemic eases.

"This is how we'll get to our jobs and there will be jobs created to build" and operate it. "These are good jobs."

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752