Another domino to move the Gateway Corridor bus rapid transit Gold Line forward has fallen, after the Federal Transit Administration accepted the project into a program Jan. 19 that could lead to matched funding.

The Gold Line is now part of the FTA's "New Starts" program, which assists transit projects that exceed $300 million. With the Gold Line estimates ringing in over $420 million, the designation into the program helps it gain eligibility for federal matching funds, allowing up to half of the tab to be picked up by the FTA.

The matching funds will likely only apply to the money spent from here on out. With design work only about 3 percent complete, a Metropolitan Council spokesman said, there will be plenty of opportunity to rack up matching funds.

"The significance is now with the work that we do to continue design, any local funding from this point forward will leverage federal funding," said Jan Lucke, Washington County Transportation Planning Manager.

This step in the project development is a significant one, Lucke said. The Met Council and Gateway Corridor Commission has essentially worked the last eight years to get to this point where the FTA would commit to the project and assist in its funding.

"We're really at the beginning now," she said.

The nine-mile Gold Line is planned to run 11 stops, starting in Woodbury and running through Oakdale, Landfall and Maplewood before connecting with Green Line light rail transit at Union Depot in St. Paul, much of it along the congested I-94.

The Gold Line is expected to be in service by 2024 with construction beginning in 2022.

The entrance into the New Starts program will allow the Metropolitan Council to build a team of staff, contractors and Washington and Ramsey county staffers to move ahead on design, environmental work and outreach.

Washington County's immediate next steps adding definition to the stops.

"We will work with cities along corridor to fine-tune locations and what it will take to construct, plus the environmental impact," Lucke said.

Moving ahead, she said there will be several opportunities for residents to weigh in on the project.

When the bus rapid transit service begins, it will be the first in the state to operate primarily in a designated rapid bus lane.

"This announcement is great news for the East Metro region and for our state. The Gold Line will improve transit choices for over a half million Minnesotans," Gov. Mark Dayton said in a news release. "It will connect workers with good jobs, encourage business expansions and reduce commuter congestion."