Bids to build a transit station in Newport exceeded Washington County's estimates by such a substantial amount that they've been rejected, delaying construction and bus service by several months.

The low bids in four categories of construction added up to $619,000 more than the county's overall budget of $2.475 million, senior transportation planner Andy Gitzlaff told the Washington County Regional Rail Authority last week. Bid packages were submitted for building construction, electrical work, landscaping and the fourth category of grading, utilities and paving.

"They saw more complexity in the roof design than we originally considered," Gitzlaff said of contractors' interpretation of the plans.

The transit station — the first big icon on the envisioned Red Rock Corridor from St. Paul southeast through Newport, Cottage Grove and Hastings — was expected to open this year. Having to call for new bids means the station won't open until next summer, Gitzlaff said last week.

Commuters using the Newport station will park in a 200-stall lot and, initially, ride Metro Transit Route 364 express buses to St. Paul. The station is one of the first pieces in the envisioned 30-mile Red Rock Corridor, which will run north from Hastings with stops in Cottage Grove, Newport and Lower Afton Road in St. Paul. The transit line someday will connect to St. Paul's Union Depot, the University of Minnesota and the downtown Minneapolis Interchange Station. Future plans call for extending the corridor into Goodhue County.

Eventually the Red Rock line will settle on a long-term mode of transit, such as bus rapid transit or commuter rail.

Planners envision that the transit station will lure retail development and housing to about 40 acres of surrounding land once known as "Little Chicago" and now christened "Red Rock Gateway."

That land, southwest of where Hwy. 61 intersects with Interstate 494, holds substantial promise for a 10-fold increase in Newport's tax base, Barbara Dacy, executive director of the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, said last fall.

The total cost for the transit portion of the development will be $6.2 million, which includes $3.3 million for land acquisition and $450,000 for consultant services. The construction budget, at $2.475 million, constitutes 40 percent of the overall cost. About half the money needed to pay for the full project will come from transit sales tax revenues. Another large chunk will come from state bonds.

Gitzlaff said the county would work with the city of Newport to make the building plans less complex, in hopes of new bids this fall.

"We'll take another look at it and see if we can't trim things back a bit," Rail Authority Chairwoman Autumn Lehrke said. Members of the authority are County Board members operating under a different name.