With Dakota County's impending departure from an important board that funds mass transit in the metro area, I wondered if other east metro counties were feeling snubbed, as well.
Not really, but there's some wariness and concern over how local transit will be funded in the future, and by whom.
Last summer, Dakota County informed the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) that it was withdrawing, effective 2019. Formed in 2008, CTIB collects a quarter-cent transit tax and a $20 motor vehicle sales tax from Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties to help fund the metro area's public transportation infrastructure.
Dakota County officials said they decided to leave the board because they feel they contribute more in tax revenue than they receive in return. I'll leave the CTIB folks to debate that (and they have, often vociferously, at recent meetings).
CTIB has a long list of transit projects it supports financially, including the proposed Southwest and Bottineau LRT lines — both in Hennepin County, and costing a total of $3.5 billion. (CTIB is paying about 30 percent of each project.)
Beyond the Green Line, which opened in 2014, there are a half-dozen transit projects serving the east metro that are still on the drawing board. The Gateway Gold Line, a $485 million bus-rapid transit line linking Woodbury to the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul, is humming along, with plans to begin service in 2023.
"CTIB is a very good financial arrangement for Washington County," said Commissioner Lisa Weik, also a member of CTIB. "We collect $6 million a year in sales tax revenue, and for Gateway Gold Line alone, we would get over $120 million in grants if we go into the full construction phase."
Several projects in works
Other east-metro transit projects include the Riverview Corridor (downtown St. Paul to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport); Red Rock corridor (St. Paul to Hastings); Robert Street corridor (downtown St. Paul to Rosemount); and the Rush Line (St. Paul to Hinckley). In most cases, the actual mode of transit hasn't been settled upon. There's also the Interstate 35W Orange Line BRT, linking Minneapolis to Burnsville.
William Schroeer, executive director of East Metro Strong, doesn't wade much into the controversy over Dakota County and CTIB. "You have political fighting over not-enough money," he said. "We need more money for transit so everyone can build what they need."
East Metro Strong was formed as a public-private partnership three years ago with the idea of bringing "more and better transit investment to the east" and related economic development, where appropriate. The group advocates for more transit funding but doesn't get into the weeds about how that might come about.
Jim McDonough, a Ramsey County commissioner and CTIB member, said East Metro Strong was created to fill a void: "We felt we needed a more unified voice."
A report released by the group in March notes only 26 percent of people in Ramsey, Washington and Dakota counties live within a quarter-mile of daily transit service. This, "despite having a healthy concentration of jobs." The group counts 3M, HealthEast and the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce as members.
Dakota County Commissioner Thomas Egan says he's supportive of East Metro Strong's efforts. "We've been working very closely with Ramsey and Washington counties," he said. "That will continue" — despite the county's departure from CTIB.