Frost remains after Met Council, Scott County meet

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 14, 2012 - 7:29 PM

County's leaders are asking for help, while the council's chairwoman warns of realities they face in trying to fund plans for growth and transportation.

"The reason I am here," Susan Haigh began by saying, "is that I can pick up that people feel that our relationship can be better with Scott County."

The relationship may not have improved much by the time the new chairwoman of the Metropolitan Council was done facing the county's civic leaders Friday morning in Prior Lake.

And perhaps, given the political realities, it isn't likely to.

It was certainly a chance for Haigh to see just how intense is the concern in Scott County about the seven-county regional planning agency, and its transportation plans in particular. It was also a chance for her to caution a room jammed with mayors, county commissioners and other leaders that trends are developing that they may not like.

This coming week, she said, her staff will release its new set of population projections -- projections on which such things as road-and-bridge spending is based.

"The growth pattern going forward will look different from last time," she said, pointedly. And then repeated: "We will see some very different growth projections."

It's important because Scott County's fast pace of growth has been its biggest argument for major new spending. Haigh is already on record warning that the council no longer expects the fast growth that past councils have foreseen. But Friday she added two other dimensions that affect mostly white suburban counties with traditional, large, family-oriented subdivision housing.

The new forecasts will stress, she said, that "our region is changing fast, in becoming super-diverse, with 40 percent people of color by 2040. And households are shrinking: Lots of them are now one and two people. That means different housing needs," and potentially a shift toward higher-density housing of the kind suburbanites often resist.

She also warned that if Scott County wants help on funding for roads and transit needs, the notoriously tax-averse county needs to bring some sugar to the table.

Speaking to the question of turning the Hwy. 101 bridge in Shakopee into a four-laner, for instance:

"The real issue is, who pays? Where does the money come from? There has to be a strong local component to that."

Nor is it clear, she said, just how much that project will end up costing. "We need some real cost numbers," she said.

Perhaps the most tense moment came when Scott County's top transportation person, Lezlie Vermillion, pleaded for help on that project.

"This is a major river crossing," she said. "How about some leadership from our regional planning entity? Both counties [Scott and Carver] are committed to this. The governor supports getting it done. It's how we get that leadership. I have to believe that if Met Council and MnDOT [the state transportation agency] and two counties went to the Legislature and said 'Let's do this,' we could advance it. But we are not getting that type of dialog and discussion. Can we have that?"

Haigh tossed the ball to her own top transportation planner, Arlene McCarthy.

"We have talked to MnDOT about a potential four-lane," McCarthy said, "but we do not know what the cost is. We'd like to be informed about the cost. ... We cannot ignore what the funding gap is. There are needs across the entire region. "

Haigh told the group, in effect, that she hears complaints everywhere, not just from Scott County. She especially hears it from the east metro, where she's from -- she's a former Ramsey County commissioner -- and from the north metro. Both areas feel left out of a growing system of light rail and rapid busways that is heavily geared toward the southwest quadrant of the metro area.

With a prominent skeptic of the Southwest Corridor light-rail project in the room, in the form of Shakopee state representative Mike Beard, she also made a pitch for that project.

"You will have a one-seat ride on the Green Line from Eden Prairie to the Capitol," with its links to the Central Corridor now being built, she said. "There are 200,000 jobs along that corridor today, and we expect growth of 60,000 more by 2030, so it's going to be an efficient way to get to work."

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

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