The METRO Gold Line won't notably affect the environment, the Federal Transit Administration has decided.

The Metropolitan Council announced Tuesday, Jan. 21, that the planned bus rapid transit project received a "Finding of No Significant Impact" from the federal body. The 10-mile bus line would connect downtown St. Paul to its eastern neighborhoods and suburbs Landfall, Maplewood, Oakdale and Woodbury seven days a week, running mainly in bus-only lanes just north of Interstate 94. The line is expected to begin servicing riders in 2024.

The FTA reviewed an environmental assessment completed in fall 2019, compiled with feedback from more than 2,000 community members over two years of public meetings and community surveys in the east metro.

The approval is key to the project's funding: 45% of the cost could be covered by the federal Capital Improvements Grants program, which the FTA administers. It also allows other grant applications to be completed for possible funding.

"A successful transit project has to fit into the community it serves as seamlessly as possible," Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle said in a news release. "We want to make sure the Gold Line improves the quality of life for people along the line. Bus rapid transit service like the Gold Line provides important community connections, and we’re pleased at the progress this project is making to bring this great option to people in the east metro."

The project must still get environmental approvals from the state of Minnesota and the Federal Highway Administration.

Design for local station platforms and the area surrounding them is expected to begin in late 2020, Woodbury city engineer Tony Kutzke said in December. Current plans include 21 stations along the bus line, with three in Woodbury: one at the Woodbury 494 Park and Ride on Woodlane Drive, one near Woodbury Theatre on Guider Drive and one on Tamarack Road. Parking areas are planned for the Woodbury 494 Park and Ride Station and the Woodbury Theatre Station.