Dakota County officials were not expecting much when they sent in this year's requests for federal transportation funding.
Every couple of years, the metro area governments vie for federal funding doled out by the Transportation Advisory Board, a committee of the Metropolitan Council. This year, for the first time, the board was scoring projects based on the Metropolitan Council's Thrive 2040 plan — which suburban county officials have said unfairly favors urban areas and emphasizes transit and bicycle transportation over roads.
But for all the fears and protestations when it came to roads funding, "We did quite a bit better than we had planned," County Engineer Mark Krebsbach told commissioners last week.
The county received $22.6 million for nine local projects planned for 2017 to 2019.
Dakota County did particularly well on projects in areas where there are a lot of crashes and traffic, and where growth is anticipated, he said. For instance, the county received $7 million for the interchange at County Road 42 and Hwy. 52 in Rosemount.
However, the board did not grant any of the county's requests for aid for rural roads. In the future, those low-traffic road projects will send up "a red flag," Krebsbach said.
The big disappointment for Dakota County was bicycle and pedestrian projects. The Transportation Advisory Board did not approve money for numerous projects in the county, like the Mississippi River Regional Trail or Minnesota River Greenway. It also did not financially support any of the local cities' bicycle and pedestrian plans.
"On the parks side, there is no question that our fears came true," Physical Development Director Steve Mielke said. "If the system doesn't change, we're going to get the same results next time unless we can somehow realign our requests."
Dakota County has historically done well on bicycle projects. But the type of trails that did well in past years ranked dramatically lower in 2014, Senior Planner John Mertens said.
The Transportation Advisory Board believes money for cyclists and pedestrians should focus on paths aimed at transportation — to jobs or destinations — rather than recreation trails, which could be funded in other ways, Mielke said.
Staff will work with other counties to try to change the Transportation Advisory Board's criteria, Krebsbach said.
When Met Council Chairman Adam Duininck met with Dakota County officials in February, he indicated he would be open to reviewing criteria and working with the county's needs, Mertens said.
Dakota County commissioners routinely complain about Minneapolis and St. Paul getting an unfair percentage of transportation money. As commissioners reviewed how the funding was dispersed throughout the metro, they laughed and made sarcastic comments about Hennepin County, which makes up 40 percent of the total metro population and received 48 percent of the funding.
Dakota County, which is home to 14 percent of metro residents, received 13 percent of the funding. County staff warned that the county's funding, which seemed well-matched this year, could drop in the future. They pointed to Anoka County, which has a similar population to Dakota County but only got 5 percent of the total funds.
"This is a new system," said Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord, who is Dakota County's representative on the Transportation Advisory Board. "I think overall they were pleased that it did spread the money fairly well across the region."
In the future, Gaylord said, the process could be tweaked.