Washington County commissioners unanimously approved $2.5 million Tuesday for the creation of the first rapid busway in the state with its own exclusive lanes.
But not before they indulged in some wistful reflection on how endless seems the gestation before the Gold Line's birth, now slated for 2024 — and some pointed questions about why they appear to be paying a significant amount for work to be done in Ramsey County.
Ramsey County commissioners last week pitched in their own $2.5 million share to help move the Gold Line — to run between Woodbury and Union Depot in downtown St. Paul — from a start-up effort overseen by hopeful locals to a new phase as a developing state and regional enterprise.
Total cost is close to $500 million; the next stage for $25 million is called "project development."
The Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) is expected to approve its $15 million portion of the latest set of costs as soon as Wednesday. Then a $3 million funding request will go to the Legislature, which committed $2 million previously.
CTIB is a metro body to which Washington and Ramsey counties contribute. Each county provides a small match.
If there's a hitch with either CTIB or the state, county officials said, they'll need to figure out how to cover it financially before the Metropolitan Council takes more control of the project.
Ramsey's vote was quick and unanimous. But Washington's vote, while unanimous, turned awkward as Commissioner Gary Kriesel questioned why they seemed to be on the hook for 95 percent of a $100,000 tab to investigate possible impact of the Gold Line on historic Ramsey County properties nearby. "I am wrestling with the equity of this," said Kriesel, who cast the lone dissenting vote on the $100,000 item.
George Kuprian, civil division chief for the Washington County attorney's office, said: "Not all contracts seem fair, but if you looked at the totality [of the cost sharing over the years] I'm sure it's fair."
The question may be a harbinger of bigger issues. Jan Lucke, transportation planner for Washington County, cautioned that there are "much bigger discussions later on about the overall project and how costs should be shared between the counties."
While the Gold Line would have several stations in both counties, some argue that the busway would be built more for Washington's benefit than Ramsey's, and at Washington's behest.
Washington County Board Chairwoman Lisa Weik on Tuesday said the Gold Line would "keep us connected to the region," even to the point of "keep[ing] Washington County relevant."
Weik, musing that planning for the Gold Line began in 2009, said she knew that "people feel like we have been doing this for a long time, which is true — yet we are still in just the first third of the overall process," referring to a graphic showing major decision points.