Metro Gold Line, a new kind of transit, is ready for its close up

A rendering from Metro Transit of a station
This rendering from Metro Transit shows the western station of the new Gold Line BRT transit line, scheduled to run from St. Paul to Woodbury starting in 2025, much of it along a dedicated bus transitway, to be built starting later this year.
Courtesy of Metro Transit

The Twin Cities are about to get a brand new kind of transit, tried elsewhere in the country but not previously in Minnesota. 

Metro Transit’s Gold Line has just wrapped up its end-to-end design process and is ready to move into construction and full federal funding — literally the last steps before the rubber hits the road. 

Not the rails, mind you. It’ll be old fashioned tires and asphalt because the line is a bus rapid transit line or BRT. But it won’t be one of the arterial street BRT lines the Twin Cities have been experimenting with recently, like the A Line that runs mostly along Snelling Avenue, or highway-shoulder lines like the Red Line. 

This will be a dedicated, 10-mile line, much of it a bus-only transitway across the east metro area from St. Paul’s Union Depot to Woodbury, Minn.

“It’s a little bit more like light rail in that respect,” said Christine Beckwith, the Gold Line project director.

Yet at a fraction of the price. The project will run about $505 million — less than a third of what train service costs to build, per mile. It will also be a dedicated transit-only route, permanent enough to justify building major park-and-ride infrastructure and some mixed-use real estate development that’s already underway.

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A rendering from Metro Transit of a station
This rendering from Metro Transit shows a station to be built in Maplewood for the the new Gold Line BRT transit line, scheduled to run from St. Paul to Woodbury starting in 2025. The project is expected to spur more than $1 billion of real estate development, including housing, retail, medical, office and other kinds of land use along the way.
Courtesy of Metro Transit

The line will have 21 stations and run mostly along Interstate 94. It will include park-and-ride facilities in Woodbury and near 3M. Buses will run every 10 or 15 minutes, and terminate at Union Depot in downtown St. Paul, a few steps from the east end of the Twin Cities light rail system, providing a connection as far west as Eden Prairie, with only one bus-to-train changeover. 

“It’s definitely not just a commuter line,” said Beckwith. “It’s much more about connecting everyone in between ... shopping and restaurants. We already see all kinds of development coming in and there’s much more planned.” 

Metropolitan Council planner Amy Yoder said there are already plans for more than $1 billion of development along the route, much of it for multi-family housing, in the expectation that people will want to live with easy access to transit. 

And Yoder said there’s likely to be more, if other projects are any indication: “In communities where there’s enough density, and enough resources, that creates kind of a feedback loop, with high-quality transit. As that network builds up, there’s more investment.” 

Yoder said that’s still happening, years after the Blue Line and Green Line trains started service. 

One of the Gold Line stops in Oakdale has already attracted an apartment development of 71 units, many of which will be designed for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. 

The engineering and planning work means that the project is ready to go out for construction bids. Utility relocation will likely start this spring, and full-fledged construction of the transitway and stations later this year. Passenger service is expected to start in 2025. 

Ramsey and Washington counties are picking up about half the cost, with the Federal Transit Administration and some local contributions making up the rest. Initial estimates are of more than 6,000 daily riders along the line, with ridership expected to grow.