The Twin Cities’ five suburban counties are digging in their heels against the Metropolitan Council, which they say created a long-term transportation plan that essentially ignores suburban and rural needs.
At a meeting Monday, leaders from the five counties presented a rare joint response to a new Met Council transport plan, flexing their collective muscle before the council’s top leader.
The regional planning agency put together the plan as a way to set goals and allocate federal funds for highway and other transportation projects over the next 25 years.
But the strictly suburban counties — Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott and Washington — say their pleas haven’t been taken seriously. And as a result, they say, the plan focuses on transit and nonmotorized transportation without paying enough attention to highways and freight, which they count as their lifeblood.
“It seems like they don’t hear us,” said Carver County Board Chair Gayle Degler.
In an opening statement, Scott County Commissioner Jon Ulrich said the counties should’ve been closely involved as the plan evolved. “Failure to do this has now resulted in a region that is not united,” he said. “We are deeply divided.”
It was unclear at the end of the meeting whether their pleas accomplished anything.
Met Council Chairwoman Sue Haigh told the commissioners that she wouldn’t be able to immediately reply in detail to what the counties laid out, but said the council would come back with a response.
“I know many of you here are frustrated because you don’t think there’s enough revenue to build the roads you would like to see built in your counties,” she said. “I think our region as a whole will [has] a big task ahead of us as we go to the 2015 legislative session.”
The meeting itself was unprecedented. County leaders pointed out the historic nature of this collaboration between the five counties and the seriousness it represented, in a space that was quickly standing-room-only.
“Have you ever seen so much power in one room?” one attendee commented as others milled about beforehand, drinking coffee and making small talk in a jovial environment that quickly became much more subdued.
Tension between the Met Council and the outer reaches of the metro has been building for a while.
The council’s long-term regional development plan, Thrive MSP 2040 — which encompasses the transportation plan — has created anxiety for suburban communities with its goals for growth in areas like transit and affordable housing.
Critics say that while this kind of growth may be realistic for Ramsey and Hennepin counties, it’s a different story elsewhere.
“There’s just a feeling that Thrive is not applied equally throughout the region,” said Lisa Freese, Scott County’s transportation chief, at a meeting of civic leaders within her county earlier this month.
The transportation issue is what finally brought the conflict to a head.
“Obviously, transportation is such a big concern for us,” Degler said. “Maybe that’s the reason — maybe it’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
According to Thrive planners, suburban counties are expected to grow 39 percent between 2010 and 2040, compared to 22 percent in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.
“We don’t believe these numbers are accurate,” said Carver County engineer Lyndon Robjent in a meeting presentation. “We think the growth will actually be higher in the suburban counties.”
And population projections, in turn, influence spending on things like roads and trains.
A lot of the growth already occurring in the metro is among low-income populations and people of color.
County leaders emphasized their commitment to eliminating disparities, but also expressed concerns about not qualifying for funding within Met Council guidelines. Among the main sticking points: The five counties do have areas of poverty, but not in the same way that Hennepin and Ramsey Counties do.
Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look described affordable housing built in the suburbs that doesn’t have access to transit, and criticized the Met Council’s plan to use transportation funding as a reward for building affordable housing. “It doesn’t afford the opportunity they’re arguing for,” he said.
In her presentation to the county commissioners, Haigh said she understood the concerns about regional balance.
“I hear about regional balance every time I go out and talk to local government officials,” she said. “If you live in the north, you think the money goes to the south.”