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Met Council steps in to help move Gold Line

Before it grants permission to proceed with the engineering phase of a proposed bus rapid transit system, the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) wants to make sure there's money at the local level to pay for it.

An estimated $25 million is needed to pay for this phase of Gateway Gold Line, which would run in both directions from Union Depot in St. Paul through the city's East Side as well as Maplewood, Landfall, Oakdale and Woodbury. But until last week, the Gateway Corridor Commission could identify only $22 million of the cost.

That's when the Metropolitan Council drafted a letter of intent that guaranteed the remaining $3 million. The infusion will strengthen the local case to the FTA, said Lisa Weik, a Washington county commissioner and chairwoman of the Gateway Corridor Commission.

"The letter from Met Council is that we can show that we've got the $25 million covered so we can get started," she said. "We don't want delays that can cost the project money during the construction phase."

The two-year design process would take the project from 1 percent to 30 percent engineering, Weik said.

The county requested funds from the state last year but the legislature failed to pass a transportation funding bill. Weik said they will ask again in 2017. But the endorsement of the Met Council means the project can go forward in the meantime.

"The letter at this point is to show the FTA that during project development, we needed the funds and the state legislature had not appropriated the funds," Weik said. "The Metro Council will provide money at the critical time."

Met Council has also agreed to act as the lead state agency on the project, which would fulfill another line item in the FTA application.

Last month the Gateway Corridor advisory committee approved a revised locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the bus line that would terminate at Woodbury Village along Bielenberg Drive.

The decision opened a 30-day public comment period that will end Nov. 10 with a public hearing 5:30-6:30 p.m. at Woodbury City Hall.

At their respective meetings later this month, the Oakdale and Woodbury city councils will vote on whether to approve the route.

If the Washington County Board of Commissioners also approves the LPA in December, the Gateway Corridor Commission can then apply to the FTA for permission to start project development on the project.

"We will transfer the lead from Washington and Ramsey counties to a state agency. Met Council will indicate that their staff will lead in project development," Weik said.

"We anticipate having the deliverables by the end of December unless there is going to be a significant citizen or business concern that we're unaware of at this time."

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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