New Metropolitan Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff waded into potentially hostile territory Wednesday, meeting with members of the Anoka County board as part of her tour of the Twin Cities.
The board has been at the forefront of a fight for more local control of the council, whose members are now appointed by the governor. The Met Council oversees the region’s wastewater and transit services, as well as guiding land use and overseeing other planning responsibilities.
The meeting, which included several Met Council members and staff, was cordial. Board Chair Rhonda Sivarajah told Tchourumoff that its push to restructure the council wasn’t aimed at its current members.
“We just think it really ends up being an issue of the accountability back to the citizens,” Sivarajah said. “We appreciate the good working relationship and want to maintain that. And we don’t want people to take it personally.”
Tchourumoff said she appreciated hearing about the good working relationship. “It’s something that I hope to continue in my time as chair,” she said.
Officials in the room said something should be done to boost ridership on the Northstar rail line. The county will soon have a direct role in the commuter rail line, following the coming dissolution of a regional county transit board.
“I just kind of cringe when I see the subsidy numbers,” said Met Council Member Lona Schreiber. She said she would like to see more discussion of bringing the line farther north to St. Cloud, rather than stopping at Big Lake, now that Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad has built a double track there.
“I’d be willing to push whatever I need to do on the Met Council side,” Schreiber said. “I think it’s worth a look now.”
Commissioners stressed the need for highway improvements to keep up with growth in the northern suburbs. Commissioner Matt Look said each new home in areas like St. Francis and Ramsey represents 2.5 cars.
“As these cars are funneling through, this situation is getting that much worse whether it’s on [Highway] 65, whether it’s on Highway 10, whether it’s on 35W coming in,” Look said.
Sivarajah also took issue with some of the criteria used locally to score federal transportation funding, which includes proximity to poverty and racially concentrated poverty. “The average taxpayer, they’re going to say ... you should be looking at safety, congestion and is the infrastructure failing and does it need improvement,” she said. “I don’t think that they would say racially concentrated areas of poverty or other criteria within transportation funding.”