A preferred alignment that would take commuters on a Bus Rapid Transit from downtown St. Paul to Manning Avenue in Woodbury took a major step forward Thursday.

The Gateway Corridor Commission approved the alignment staying north of Interstate 94, with 12 stops along the way before dropping south into Woodbury at the very end of the line.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The recommendation to stay on the north side before coming into Woodbury at Lake Elmo Avenue came after considering the impacts of constructing a transit line on existing and future development in the cities along the route.

“Lessons learned from the other corridors that are ahead of us that there are fewer challenges, fewer costs and better opportunity for economic development if these corridors follow the undeveloped areas,” said Lisa Weik, Gateway Corridor Commission Chair and Washington County Commissioner. “Otherwise we see the struggles with the Southwest Corridor where cities are so developed now.”

Rather than retrofitting a BRT line into existing areas around I-94 and Radio Drive – a previously considered alignment – take it where infrastructure is just beginning to take shape in cities like Lake Elmo and Oakdale, she said.

The commission agreed that a mainly northern alignment would service a busy park-and-ride at Guardian Angels Church in Oakdale and provide opportunities for transit at the new northeast business park in Woodbury.

Although studies point to more jobs available currently in Woodbury than in neighboring communities, 2030 predictions are close enough that each alignment option, whether through the north, south or a combination of the two, would end up having to service around 121,000 jobs.

The recommended alignment, estimated to cost $85 million, is the lowest of all since it would need fewer land acquisitions, provide the ability to work in open land and incorporate infrastructure within undeveloped areas.

“We believe this is an alternative that will receive local support,” consultant Beth Bartz said, adding it would also “compete well for federal funding.”

But Afton Mayor Dick Bend voted against the recommendation to bring the line south of I-94 onto Lake Elmo Avenue/Settlers Ridge Parkway before it ends at the Afton-Woodbury border near Manning Avenue.

City officials would’ve preferred to keep transit away from the south side, he said, which would also keep traffic and congestion away from the quiet city.

“That was the only reason that I voted against it,” he said, noting that he remains supportive of the Gateway Corridor project as a whole.

Woodbury Community Development Director Dwight Picha said the city’s analysis agreed with the recommendation that staying on the north would have the least impact on Woodbury’s developed core.

As long as local buses are incorporated in the plans, Picha said it would service the most people. Having BRT down into Settlers Ridge Parkway also allows for more opportunities in undeveloped parts of the city.

“We’re going to support this option with a circulated system that will make sure Woodbury is tied into it,” he said. “We hope to integrate (the line) into the northeast business park as it develops in the future.”

The Gateway Corridor Commission was set to provide a recommendation in mid-August, but sped up the process to coincide with the Metropolitan Council’s 2040 Transportation Policy Plan currently underway.

“Rather than having to wait a year for this locally preferred alternative to be finalized, we have a window of opportunity now to take advantage of that,” Bartz said.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on the entire 2040 transportation plan this fall with Gateway information included.

Additionally, a public hearing on the alignment recommendation will be held Thursday, Aug. 7 at Conway Recreation Center in St. Paul.

The recommendation will then go before the Washington County Railroad Authority and municipalities along the corridor in August and September asking for resolutions of support.