Gateway bus line project runs right on time
Progress on the Gateway Corridor is running right on schedule, and a nod from the Washington County Regional Railroad Authority should help keep it on track through the next year or longer.
The WCRRA approved two amendments to contracts associated with the Gateway Corridor — now officially named the Metro Gold Line by Metropolitan Council — at its March 24 meeting.
The contracts give the go-ahead to allocating $620,845 to complete the Gateway Corridor draft environmental impact statement, and spending another $145,000 for the Gateway Corridor public relations efforts associated with the project.
In presenting the contract amendments, Washington County Transportation Manager Jan Lucke shared a report on Gateway’s progress with members of the WCRRA. The progress, she said, is moving along at a good speed.
Lucke shared a number of what she called “project milestones” with the railroad authority.
The early planning phases of Gateway Corridor are nearly complete, Lucke said. An alternatives analysis was completed nearly two years ago, the scoping phase for the draft environmental impact statement was completed in June 2014, and the locally preferred alternative (LPA) – the route itself – was developed last September and October.
All indications from the transportation consultant group, HDR Inc., show that the Gateway Corridor project is right where it should be at this point in the planning process, Lucke said.
“I think one of the great accomplishments for these milestones is that we stayed on schedule,” she said told WCRRA members. “The Gateway Corridor is one of the few projects, along with Red Rock (Corridor), that is on track.”
That means that the Gateway/Gold Line bus rapid transit line could be constructed and open as early as the third quarter of 2022, Lucke said.
Still, there are a few years of work left before the project moves to the construction phase.
One of the steps that have to be completed is to identify the final locations of stations along the LPA, particularly in the area of Oakdale, Lake Elmo and Woodbury. Within that, planners have to decide where the Gold Line will cross over Interstate 94.
Four different alignments have come forward as part of that phase, Lucke said. The original draft environmental impact statement looked at the full alignment, but it will have to be extended to look specifically at the additional alignments.
“That requires additional cultural resources analysis, inventorying archeological and historical significant places, also looking at that alignment through Lake Elmo and Woodbury, that additional station where it will cross over and just the basic scope of carrying forward an alternative,” Lucke said.
The amendment for the draft environmental impact statement included funding for the original work, as well as an additional $60,000 to do the draft EIS work for the four additional LPA. Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., is the contractor for the DEIS.
The second amendment passed by the Washington County Regional Railroad Authority was to continue a strategic communications contract with the firm Jeff Dehler Public Relations. The company has developed a strategic communication work plan that includes legislative communication support, media and community relations, community and business engagement, video production, and website and social media services.
Funding for much of the work evolved from an $8,000 expenditure made by the WCRRA to fund the alternative analysis process. That initial funding set the path to an accumulation of more than $3 million in county, state and federal funding for the Gateway Corridor.
Most recently, the Pew Charitable Trust awarded a $100,000 grant for the health impact assessment associated with the project. The HIA is a process that helps evaluate potential health effects of a plan before it is built or implemented, and brings forward public health issues in the area of land use, transportation and infrastructure.
“It’s focused on working with communities on what they want their station to look like, what aspects of public health are important to them, such as access to healthy foods, access to health care services, sidewalks, things that will help them become more active and improve the public health of their individuals and families,” Lucke said.
In this project, the HIA will be focused on land use around each of the proposed Gateway Corridor stations.
If everything continues on schedule, Lucke said, the county’s work on the Gateway Corridor should be complete by late 2015, possibly early 2016. A technical analysis is under way and is anticipated to be completed by the end of April. Between April and July, staff will review technical reports and prepare the draft EIS.
The draft EIS will be available for review beginning in July, with a plan to finalize the document in November. Publication of the draft EIS is set for December. The entire Gateway Corridor project is scheduled to be transitioned from Washington County’s control to the Metropolitan Council by February of next year.
This is a big year for the Gateway Corridor, WCRRA member and County Commissioner Lisa Weik said.
“This is an important year. It’s a very important transition year. We are going to be moving into the nuts and bolts of stationary planning and letting communities do visionary work in what these areas look like,” Weik said.
Six of the 12 miles included in the Gateway Corridor are in Washington County. Before construction of the project can begin, all of the cities along the corridor will have to approve the final plans, she added.