Dakota County’s plans to leave a metro-area transit funding board appear to have put the $150.7 million Orange Line bus-rapid-transit (BRT) project in peril.
The proposed bus line, which would connect Burnsville to downtown Minneapolis, could be a casualty of the county’s decision to leave the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), which collects sales taxes to help pay for metro-area transit projects.
The CTIB took no action at its meeting Wednesday, although some resolution is expected in August. If the board doesn’t approve its $45 million share for the Orange Line, it’s unclear that the project can move forward without another source of funding.
With the impending loss of revenue, CTIB members contemplated Wednesday where to cut — and projects that touch Dakota County appeared to be in play.
The discussion prompted some suburban members of the board to complain that the south-metro county was being targeted.
“This is a punitive response to their pulling out,” said CTIB member Matt Look, an Anoka County commissioner. He noted that Anoka County also may leave the board, although there doesn’t appear to be any immediate plan to do so.
CTIB Chairman Peter McLaughlin, a Hennepin County commissioner, denied the charge. “There’s just not enough money to go forward” with some of the projects, he said.
Dakota County officials plan to leave the CTIB in 2019, because they say they don’t get nearly as much from it as they put into it — roughly $17.8 million a year.
The CTIB has committed to paying 30 percent of the cost of building both the $1.79 billion Southwest light-rail line and the Bottineau Blue Line light-rail project, which is expected to cost about $1.5 billion.
But CTIB grant payments for those projects could be delayed due to the revenue crunch as well.
The CTIB collects a quarter-cent sales tax from Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties, as well as a $20 motor-vehicle sales tax, to help pay for metro-area transit projects such as the Orange Line, which is slated to begin service in 2019. A spur extending the line to Lakeville is planned for a later date, too.
That also includes operating costs of the Red Line, the area’s first bus-rapid-transit line that connects the Mall of America to Apple Valley, plus express buses that serve the southern suburbs.
Another planned project, an arterial bus-rapid-transit line on Robert Street, also was mentioned.
‘A sober discussion’
Unlike its light-rail cousins, the Orange Line is relatively uncontroversial and is intended to alleviate congestion on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the state.
BRT lines use buses that operate like trains — where passengers pay before they hop on and buses arrive every 10 minutes during peak hours.
“This was a sober discussion about the impact of Dakota County pulling out, and where we go from here,” said Metropolitan Council Chairman Adam Duininck, who said there’s a “real strong case to be made for the Orange Line.”
Timing is key for the Orange Line because the Met Council is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minneapolis and Hennepin County to rebuild part of Interstate 35W north of 46th Street. The work includes a transit station at Lake Street, new exit and entrance ramps, and local bridges.
Orange Line planners had hoped to submit an application to the Federal Transit Administration, which would fund half of the project’s capital costs, by next month.
Looking for resolution
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges posted Wednesday on Facebook that “Hennepin and Dakota counties are now bickering, with each pretending that the Orange Line only benefits the other, when it clearly serves all the people between Minneapolis and Lakeville who need access to jobs in both directions, and can serve as a model project for commuters across our region.”
She said the Orange Line and the I-35W project are “now in serious jeopardy,” and she called on the Legislature to step in to “fix the counties’ mess” if no resolution is reached soon.
Several CTIB members said Wednesday they would like to discuss ways for Dakota County to reverse its decision. McLaughlin said he would be willing to speak to the Dakota County Board.