Environmental assessment gets the green light from the Federal Transit Administration
A project that will bring rapid bus service to the east metro has cleared a major hurdle and remains on track to begin service in 2024. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has just issued a favorable environmental decision (called the Finding of No Significant Impact) for the METRO Gold Line bus rapid transit project. The line will connect Woodbury, Oakdale, Maplewood, and Landfall to downtown Saint Paul.
“A successful transit project has to fit into the community it serves as seamlessly as possible,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle. “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.”
Over the past two years, project staff have connected with more than 2,000 community members in-person through individual and public meetings and events along the line. The environmental assessment was carried out in partnership with both Washington and Ramsey counties and all five cities the project will serve, as well as the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MnDOT, and the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office.
“Any environmental assessment process is a big undertaking,” said Gold Line Project Manager Christine Beckwith. “We worked closely with partners to obtain the feedback and input necessary to move the project forward, and we did it on schedule.”
Additional federal, state environmental approvals needed
The project is still seeking additional environmental approvals from the Federal Highway Administration and the State of Minnesota. The FTA is the lead federal agency and administers the federal Capital Improvements Grants program, which could eventually fund 45% of the project’s cost. The FTA’s environmental decision is a key milestone enabling Gold Line to continue progress through the grant application process. Washington and Ramsey counties have committed to provide the local matching funds for the project.
This spring, the public will have more opportunities to attend neighborhood meetings to view the current plans, ask questions, and make additional comments. By the end of the year Beckwith expects 60% of the design work to be complete and new rounds of public meetings to be held.
Part of the regional METRO system, the Gold Line will connect people across the region to job centers, housing options, transit stations, and key destinations in the I-94 corridor. The planned 10-mile, dedicated bus rapid transit line is expected to begin service in 2024.
Environmental assessment document
In October 2019, the METRO Gold Line published an environmental assessment report, an analysis required by state and federal governments that describes the transportation, social, and environmental benefits and impacts associated with the project.
The community had an opportunity to review and comment on the report last fall. The Gold Line project received 35 comments during the 30-day public comment period. The comments and questions received mostly focused on property impacts, landscaping and greenery, safety, noise, and connections to new and existing transit service.
The environmental report and the comments collected on the report were submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for review. After reviewing and responding to the comments, the Federal Transit Administration determined that there are no significant environmental impacts associated with the construction and operation of the Gold Line and have cleared the project to continue design and engineering.
A Gold Line environmental document announcing this decision includes responses to the comments on the environmental report. Review the environmental decision document and responses to comments on the Gold Line environmental assessment page or in person at the Gold Line Project Office, 121 N 7th Place East, Suite 102, Saint Paul, MN 55101.
This federal decision is the first environmental requirement that the Gold Line project needed to move forward since entering the Federal Capital Investment Grant program. Later this year, the Gold Line project will submit the environmental report and the environmental decision document to the Federal Highway Administration and the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board for review because of potential impacts to Interstate 94 and to ensure the project abides by state environmental laws.