Although its demise was often contentious, the final meeting Wednesday of a powerful regional transit board was collegial, congratulatory — even tearful.
Formed in 2008, the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) comprised five Twin Cities counties tasked with helping to fund the region's transit system.
To date, CTIB has raised about $1 billion through a quarter-cent transit tax and a $20 motor vehicle sales tax from Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties for that purpose. Among its accomplishments: contributing to the nearly $1 billion Green Line LRT, which connects the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
But last year, Dakota County announced plans to leave the board, claiming it puts more into CTIB than it gets out. Later, after state lawmakers declined to fund metro-area transit projects, the board decided to disband after determining that more money could be raised by individual counties taxing themselves.
On Wednesday, Dakota County Commissioner Thomas Egan said he doesn't regret "starting the process" of dissolution.
"We should celebrate [CTIB's] successes," Egan said. "There was no possible way we could have built the Red Line without it. Now it's done, there's no longer justification" for the board. (The Red Line bus-rapid transit connects the Mall of America to Apple Valley.)
Others were sad to see CTIB go, acknowledging that the landscape for transit funding has changed. This is largely due to state legislators' aversions to paying for big metro-area projects like the proposed $1.9 billion Southwest light-rail line. Now, the counties planning transit projects will have to pay part of the local share — both Hennepin and Ramsey counties earlier this year approved a half-cent tax for transit.
"We are set up for the future," said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who chaired CTIB from its inception. Speaking to the board Wednesday, McLaughlin choked up as he ticked off the names of advocates past and present who have pushed for a regional transit system.
"It's never easy to come together as a region, and it wasn't easy to pull it apart," he said.
The dissolution "had nothing to do with the leadership," said Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte, who occasionally disagreed with CTIB's direction. "Times have changed."
By shoring up local funding for transit, CTIB helped attract $1.48 billion in federal funds to build the Green and Red Lines, the Northstar commuter rail, and the Fridley, Apple Valley, Ramsey, Newport and Cedar Grove stations. CTIB has also chipped in to operate existing transit lines to the tune of $209 million.
CTIB contributed to other projects as well, including the Southwest and Bottineau light-rail lines, which are projected to launch in 2022.
One of its final acts Wednesday involved appropriating $15 million toward the purchase of 27 light-rail train cars for Southwest, and $4.8 million for right-of-way purchases for the Bottineau Blue Line LRT.
But uncertainty looms about critical federal matching grants, as Congress weighs transit funding for the next fiscal year.