The planners of the Gold Line rapid busway proposed to slice across the east metro area think they’ve found a way to save millions of dollars, hasten the trip, and add more riders.

Now the question is how to keep the money coming in in order to move ahead with the project.

The two-county commission organizing the line has settled on a proposed route that ends near the eastern boundary of Lake Elmo, instead of in Woodbury. But it is holding off on finalizing that decision until the public gets a chance to weigh in next month.

Project manager Andy Gitzlaff, of Washington County, told members of the Gateway Corridor commission:

“Let’s have the public see the work being done and see where decision-makers are leaning when there’s still a chance to weigh in before a final decision is made.”

A potential source of friction: A terminus in growth-shy Lake Elmo could imply more development there than otherwise foreseen.

But there is sentiment on the City Council there to concentrate development along the Interstate 94 corridor as a means of sparing other, more rural parts of town.

Option A for the end of the line takes a jog south into Woodbury at Settlers Ridge, then swings north into Lake Elmo at Manning Ave.

As opposed to an Option B that zips north of the freeway through Lake Elmo, then loops back westward in Woodbury along Hudson Road, Option A has these advantages:

It’s shorter (12.6 miles vs. 13.1), cheaper ($16.7 million vs. $23.5 million), and cuts travel time. And it potentially will attract more riders, partly because the ride is quicker and partly because it adds a station.

“When you see a ridership gain, even by a few hundred, that is an important goal,” Gitzlaff said.

A public hearing will be held on Sept. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at Woodbury City Hall.

Needs more money

Piecing together the proposed line hasn’t been easy.

The commission failed, in vigorous lobbying last legislative session, to get state approval for the next $3 million needed to advance the prolonged process of creating such a complicated project.

Washington County’s Jan Lucke said the failure to obtain the state’s share “doesn’t delay the project yet,” but if the money doesn’t come through early next year “it will be delayed, and delay means millions in inflationary costs — very real costs to the project.”

State Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, warned commissioners they will “want to get your A game ready” for the next legislative session, starting in March.

State Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, added: “Don’t wait till March, you have a lot of work to do. Get your message to the decision-makers now.”

The Gold Line is a proposed bus rapid transit line running alongside I-94 between the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul and the eastern end of the metro area.

Instead of the current rush hour expresses, it offers all-day transit service at 13 stations. It could open by 2022 and would be the first of its type in the state.

The end-of-line configuration decision has long been delayed, with the last bit of distance enclosed on maps within a hesitant bubble.

The commission’s description of its latest recommendation goes this way:

“The recommended route would follow Fourth Street North/Hudson Boulevard east through Oakdale and Lake Elmo with a station near Keats Avenue, and turn right on Lake Elmo Avenue.

“It would cross Interstate 94 south into Woodbury and turn left to continue east on Hudson Road, with a station near Settler Ridge Parkway. The route would then turn left on Manning Avenue, concluding north of I-94 at a proposed Metro Transit park-and-ride station.”

After the public comments, final action occurs in the fall by the commission, Washington County, and the cities of Lake Elmo and Woodbury.

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