Construction of the Newport Transit Station will begin later this month, and Washington County will install fiber optic cabling to automatically monitor climate controls and the building's security.

The County Board's decision to link the station with the county's fiber optic network prepares the station for an array of future improvements, including library kiosks and wireless computer connections. The cabling also will allow remote locking of the building when it closes at night and monitoring of heating and cooling, said Wayne Sandberg, the county engineer.

The board approved a $195,316 contract with Trace Technologies to extend cabling about 4.2 miles from the nearest node at Radio Drive and Bailey Road in Woodbury. The Oklahoma company submitted the lowest of nine bids. The county will use $70,000 from its capital repair fund to help pay for the project.

The overall transit station project, which will cost $6.2 million, will be the first city development along the Red Rock Corridor, a major commuter line from Minneapolis and St. Paul to Cottage Grove and south to Hastings. Eventually the line could be extended to Goodhue County. Express buses will serve the Newport station at first, but the Red Rock Corridor Commission has adopted bus rapid transit as the preferred mode of transportation.

To make room for the transit station, the abandoned Knox Lumber building has been demolished and concrete has been hauled away for recycling, Sandberg said.

The site, southwest from the junction of Interstate 494 and Hwy. 61, is expected to rejuvenate a blighted area in Newport and could see more improvements in coming years. The city began negotiations with homeowners in March to buy 6.5 acres of flood-prone land along the Mississippi River for a park.

County commissioners, including Autumn Lehrke, voted 5-0 in favor of the fiber optics contract. Lehrke and her husband recently purchased a business near the transit site, which some public officials criticized as a conflict of interest. Lehrke chairs the County Board and also the Red Rock Corridor Commission.