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Dayton includes $3 million for Gold Line in bonding bill

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Jan. 4 that he wants to give $3 million for the Gold Line.

The amount was included in the governor's $1.5 billion bonding bill and would complete the state's $5 million share to fund the development of the bus-rapid transit (BRT) line that will travel back and forth between St. Paul and Woodbury in 2023.

The Gold Line would connect Union Depot in downtown St. Paul with Woodbury as buses travel on bus-only lanes throughout most of the route, making it the first of its kind in Minnesota.

Officials said the funds included in Dayton's bill would go toward completing an environmental review, design and engineering, as well as getting approval from cities the line passes through.

Washington County Commissioner Lisa Weik said planners want to have a more developed plan of the bus line before seeking federal funding, which will account for a large chunk of the project's $420 estimated costs.

The Dayton administration said the bonding bill, which is the largest in state history, would create nearly 23,000 jobs across the state. Gold Line planners project more than 300,000 total jobs will exist along the 9-mile-long BRT route by 2040, a 30 percent increase from 2010.

"Gov. Dayton's support for Gold Line BRT is an important step forward for this much-needed transportation option," Weik said. "Gold Line BRT is about keeping and growing jobs in the east metro. Regular, all-day service that connects Woodbury, Oakdale and Maplewood with St. Paul and the entire Twin Cities will boost economic activity and access to jobs."

Weik said a number of east metro businesses, including the 3M Co., have expressed a strong desire for more transit options. Young professionals, she said, might turn down job offers when public transit isn't available.

The Gateway Corridor Commission, a body of public and elected officials, recently selected a new route that would pass through Oakdale and Woodbury, connecting the two cities on a bridge over Interstate 94.

The route, which would terminate in Woodbury Village, slashed $65 million from a route previously proposed to end in Lake Elmo.

Funding for the project likely would remain the same with federal dollars and local sales tax covering 45 and 35 percent of costs, respectively. Ramsey and Washington counties would also pitch in 5 percent, and the remaining 10 percent would come from the state.

State Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said she doesn't feel the governor's bill will make or break the project from happening, should lawmakers trim or eliminate funding the Gold Line.

Still, she said, the money would keep the project's engineering and design plans moving along, which will be needed for securing federal funding.

Some local residents have voiced concern about the project, mainly touching on the project's costs and impacts on property value for homeowners, while others have expressed a desire for more transit option and potential economic benefits of having fixed stations.

"Because Minnesota currently doesn't have a complete transit system, it's hard for people to envision how that works," Kent said. "We're asking people to take a leap of faith, and if they haven't lived or worked in the kind of place ... it's hard for them to see themselves taking advantage of it."

Republican leaders said Jan. 4 that certain items in the governor's bonding proposal would still likely be trimmed down. Kent said, however, the Gold Line and bus rapid transit has had strong bipartisan support.

The governor's bonding bill includes just less than $10 million for projects around Washington County. Those items include the following:

• Gateway Corridor, $3 million;

• Century College, $2.54 million;

• Corrections asset preservation in Oak Park Heights, $2.35 million;

• Corrections asset preservation in Stillwater, $1.12 million;

• Metropolitan Council park, $688,000.