The way Gary Kriesel sees it, the Minnesota Legislature had better get behind east-metro transit, and fast, because he's doubting the state's sincerity in backing the Metro Gold Line.
"It's Interstate 94, not County Road 94," the longtime Washington County commissioner said of the bus rapid transit route being planned for construction in 2018.
Kriesel repeatedly has expressed his skepticism of state support for transit over the years, and at last week's County Board meeting, he erupted in anger at the Legislature's failure to appropriate $3 million to help fund planning for the Gold Line from downtown St. Paul to eastern Woodbury.
"This is supposed to be a partnership between the state, the feds and local governments," he said. "All of a sudden they don't have an appetite for transit. Why didn't they tell us that from the get-go? I have a total lack of trust with the state."
Kriesel's comments came after County Administrator Molly O'Rourke told the five commissioners that some of Washington County's legislative priorities went unfunded, including the Gold Line request. In another loss, the county would receive $400,000 less in state program aid in 2016 because legislators didn't pass a tax bill.
"There's a lot left on the table, including a major transportation bill," said Commissioner Karla Bigham, a former legislator. She said she hoped "cooler heads" would prevail if Gov. Mark Dayton calls a special session this summer.
"This was horrible, this session," said Commissioner Ted Bearth. "This is the best word I can use to describe it. We've got to move on and get something done around here."
The Gold Line, formerly Gateway Corridor, would serve six cities and two counties on a bus rapid transit route from Union Depot in downtown St. Paul to the east side of Woodbury. Washington County's population is growing as well — O'Rourke told commissioners it had increased 2.2 percent in the past year, to more than 248,000.
Businesses want to build in proximity to transit lines because more of their employees are millennials who prefer public transportation, said Commissioner Lisa Weik. Lack of transit near the former State Farm headquarters in Woodbury has deterred companies from moving there, she said.
The Legislature's inaction on the $3 million request doesn't immediately hurt the Gold Line project, Kriesel and Weik said, because they possibly can turn to the Metropolitan Council for the money. It would pay for environmental analysis, design, and engineering, in addition to other funding sources.
Washington and Ramsey counties have led the Gold Line project, they said, but they want stronger state involvement to make sure it opens in 2022 as planned.
"This is a defining time for me," Kriesel said of his waning patience with state policymakers. During the County Board meeting he did, however, specifically mention four legislators who he said worked on behalf of cities they represented to get the transit money: Rep. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, and Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury.
"The state has to show they're willing partners to build all transit," Kriesel said.
Fenton said last week that "Gary Kriesel is absolutely right" and that most people favor transit in east metro.
"The reason this is so important is this is part of the federal protocol to keep this project on track and get some federal funding," she said.
Bigham said that in addition to the $3 million Gold Line request, $1 million in bonding for the Red Rock Corridor transit line in her district in southern Washington County went unapproved in the Legislature.
"It's extremely disheartening," she said. "I think it's a casualty of a mixed partisan government. Instead of looking at what they could agree upon, and attacking that, they tended to stick to their priorities until the end and their priorities didn't match up."
The Legislature did appropriate some money for Washington County, she said, including a slight increase in funding for Community Corrections and some for Community Services for use in child protection efforts.
A bill for $520,000 to improve recreation and water habitat in Grey Cloud Island Slough fell short of final action in the Senate when the Legislature adjourned, she said.
Lack of money for transit was disappointing, Bigham said.
"I don't believe that Minnesotans like obstructionists," she said. "They want investment in their infrastructure."