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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Washington County Institutes Their Own Transit Sales Tax as Feds, State, and Local Funding Jump Ship

The blinders the Washington County Commissioners have are thick and heavy. For every one perceived step forward there are two ignored steps back. In January they were quick to tell the media the Gateway Corridor/ Gold Line was accepted into the new starts program... But in February the news is that the parent program over the new starts, the capital investment grants (CIG) program is axing all MN corridors! Yes starting for 2019... but even for fiscal year 2018 no corridor in Washington County was going to get a cent from the feds. See the 2018 FY report from the FTA

So the "good" news that the Gold Line got into the smaller new starts program looks null and void because the larger parent program has recommended for all our corridors to receive nothing. It's like getting hired for a job by a branch manager on their last day of work. Then the district boss comes in and tells them they're out and so are most the projects and new hires they were working with are gone too. The new  management is in and they've announced they're going to fire the Gold line... but this major step back is going unreported just like most of the major steps back for the Washington County mass transit corridors. Who, by their own numbers, will relieve less than 5% of traffic off the highway they wind down the side streets next to on the slow ride to St. Paul. See:


The transit corridors in WC have been NINE YEARS in planning! The furthest along, the Gold Line, is only a year into the $25 million dollar Project development phase, with another 3 years until construction will supposedly start (p.12). In 2014 they told the legislature they'd be a year into construction by now! (p.49)

Transit planners are in the business of over promising and under delivering. The year before the Red Line they predicted 2,250 riders a day... they only got 850 and even less today as they assumed ridership would rise with awareness... it's been a stagnant 850 or so riders a year since it opened in 2013. The Northstar corridor predicted there'd be 9,500 riders a day by 2020 in the current Big Lake to Minneapolis layout in 2006 (p.27); but only has 2,500 riders on this design today (p.16)... They were off by 7,000 riders a day! 

Washington County Dumpster Fire
The transit corridors in Washington County are a dumpster fire of tax dollars. 
- It's on the third County lead transit planner for the line (Gitzlaff the first, Leitner the second, Jan Lucke the third). 
- The state hasn't directly funded a corridor with a dedicated bill since 2011; 
- The sole source of back door funding, the un-elected Met Council, has it's days numbered in failed mass transit funding business. 
-The County Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) that used to fund the corridors is disbanded. 
- And finally the feds have announced they're not interested in funding any of the corridors here

The County likely suspected this when the Trump administration said they were planning on redirecting funds from failed mass transit to roads and bridges in early 2017. So in June Washington County Commissioners voted to Institute their own the transit sales tax on residents to try and keep the quickly sinking ship a float. But they'll still be short hundreds of millions of dollars on this unsustainable track.

It seems there is no amount of pulled State, Federal, and local funding that would discourage the Washington County board, Representative Kelly Fenton, Franke, and Jurgens and the Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, from saying enough is enough... We've wasted over $51,000,000 local Washington County tax dollars planning these horribly bad transit lines (the amount of money raised since 2008 from the county by the transit sales tax).

All 5 county commissioners have voted unanimously to keep it going full steam ahead. Don't be fooled by an isolated, and pre-arrange no vote from commissioner Fran Miron and Gary Kriesel for the tax. They've continued to vote to approve steps to move the mass transit projects forward before and after their isolated no vote.

Not all public transit is bad. The express bus, park and ride, service with peak service during rush hours directly to and from the city is good. Metro mobility, that provides door to door service for elderly and disabled people is good. Even some local bus routes in Washington County are useful. No buildings to maintain, no service during the mid day and night where LRT and BRT run with largely empty (for express bus), lower operating costs, and no costly infrastructure to pay for and maintain other than the buses themselves.

For the over $50 million we've lost for nothing we could have built expanded express bus service in every major city in Washington County or better yet, fixed/expanded our county roads:  Gateway Corridor vs Metro Transit: How State's $9 million Route Upgrade Could Replace the Gateway Corridor

-Matt Behning