A proposed Gateway Corridor public transit route now will run through northern Woodbury to take advantage of business development potential and make it easier for riders to climb aboard buses or trains.

The new route will follow Hudson Road on the north side of Interstate 94 in Oakdale, but cross to the south side of the freeway just west of Radio Drive in Woodbury. It then would head east to Manning Avenue.

Park and ride stations inside Washington County would be built at Oaks Business Park in Oakdale, at the intersection of Hudson Road and Woodbury Drive in Woodbury, and at Manning Avenue.

"We're here before this board with what we envision as a milestone moment for this project," Andy Gitzlaff, a county transportation coordinator, told commissioners at a meeting last week.

Planners envision Gateway Corridor transit as critical to reducing freeway commuter traffic congestion between St. Paul and the St. Croix River. Bus rapid transit (BRT) or light-rail trains (LRT) will link to the refurbished Union Depot in St. Paul, where commuters continuing to Minneapolis could board other buses or the new Central Corridor light-rail train, also known as the "Green Line," that will open in 2014.

An earlier plan for Gateway Corridor put the transit route down the middle of I-94 where it was less accessible for riders and businesses, Gitzlaff said. BRT remains the principal favored means of transit, but LRT also will be considered in the next round of studies, he said.

Washington County has a deep interest in potential economic development associated with Gateway Corridor because of the money-generating power of Woodbury, the county's largest city. Woodbury is the county's economic engine, producing considerable tax revenue, and the city wants to open a major new business district on vacant land in the northeast corner of the city.

The Manning Avenue station would be built in that business development, according to current plans.

But city and county leaders also hope that transit will attract a tenant for the huge State Farm complex at I-94 and Radio Drive that's sat empty for eight years. Woodbury lost 1,500 jobs when State Farm moved its headquarters to Lincoln, Neb., and a smaller office in Mendota Heights.

Lisa Weik, who represents Woodbury on the county board and also chairs the Gateway Corridor Commission, said she expects to see construction of the transit line by 2019.

In a separate meeting with the county board last week, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum urged commissioners to take control of transit planning along Hwy. 36 before traffic from a new St. Croix River bridge overwhelms that aging road and cities along it.

McCollum opposed the $690 million bridge project as excessively costly, preferring a smaller bridge instead. Unless the Minnesota Department of Transportation produces a comprehensive plan for Hwy. 36 from Oak Park Heights to Roseville, local property taxpayers could be on the hook for needed road improvements, she said. Her Fourth District now includes all of Washington County, from Stillwater and Grant in the north to Woodbury and Afton in the south.

McCollum also warned that increases in traffic expected after the new bridge opens in 2017 could cause Hwy. 36 problems that in turn sap money from Gateway Corridor.

"I'm very concerned about the funding that's going to be there and how that's going to affect Gateway," she told the county board in a discussion of "mutual interests" last week. "We need to come together as east metro and come up with an east metro plan."

County commissioners voted 5-0 in recent years to endorse the bridge project.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles