The Orange Line is still being squeezed.
Regional funding for the planned bus rapid transit project, intended to connect Minneapolis and Burnsville, has dropped $15 million this summer.
At a tense meeting Wednesday morning of the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) — a body that funds metro-area transit projects using sales taxes levied in five counties — board members argued over what CTIB is obligated to pay, and why the decision to cut funding was made.
“There’s absolutely nothing — nothing — that justifies what you are doing,” said Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan, his voice rising as he jabbed his finger in the air.
The Dakota County Board voted in June to exit CTIB. The county will remain part of the board until the end of 2018, and as a result, will have less say in what it does.
Since announcing their departure from CTIB, Dakota County commissioners say, relationships with leaders in other counties have grown tense and the future of Dakota County transit projects has become uncertain. The Orange Line has been a major source of concern.
CTIB initially committed $45 million for the project. That number is now $30 million, pending federal funding. Dakota and Hennepin counties and the Metropolitan Council must fill the gap.
CTIB Chairman Peter McLaughlin said repeatedly at Wednesday’s meeting that the commitment to the Orange Line hasn’t changed. The board decided last month to fund up to $37.5 million — reducing that number to $30 million fits within that resolution, he said.
Not everyone was convinced.
Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden and state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, both attended Wednesday’s meeting and spoke up to express concerns about the Orange Line’s future.
“This is a priority project, as you know, for our regional system,” Hornstein said. “So we want to make sure it moves ahead.”
Dakota County managed to salvage funds for other local projects Wednesday, including money to keep the bus rapid transit Red Line in operation between Apple Valley and the Mall of America.
CTIB is facing rising operating costs and the lack of state transportation funding this legislative session. In addition, Dakota County’s withdrawal means eventually losing millions of dollars in sales tax revenue.
CTIB staff suggested cutting funding for projects including the Red Line, Orange Line, Robert Street Corridor and Dakota County’s segment of the planned Red Rock Corridor at the end of 2017.
After an objection from Dakota County Commissioner Nancy Schouweiler — “We’re still members through 2018,” she said — the board passed an amended list of projects that extends funding for operating Dakota County projects through 2018.