Dakota County exit threatens transit vision

Is it still possible to come up with a regional and professional transportation policy in the Twin Cities?

The ongoing suburb v. city mentality, in the form of ongoing transit v. roads split that’s bedeviled Minnesota for a generation, is threatening to scuttle the multi-county Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB). It was formed in 2008 to try to solve the gridlock caused by Minnesota’s decision long ago to constitutionally dedicate the gas tax to roads and bridges.

Participating counties agreed to pool .5% sales tax increases in participating counties — Dakota, Ramsey, Hennepin, Washington, Anoka, Carver and Scott — to fund transit projects.

From the start, smaller counties worried that the big counties would overwhelm their mostly suburban projects, although supporters noted it would take a third county to agree.

Now, there are cracks in the arrangement, the Star Tribune reports.

Dakota County wants out; the county board voted yesterday to take steps to go it alone.

Figures prepared by county staff show that between 2008 and 2016, Dakota County contributed 13 percent of CTIB’s total transit tax, but got about 7 percent of its capital and operating grants.

Estimates based on CTIB’s 2015 list of projects show that by 2024, Dakota County would likely contribute 12 percent of the total funds but get back just 3 percent — a smaller allocation than any other participating county.

Dakota County has been part of CTIB since its inception. The decision to join came in part from a desire to use transit to move people across congested Minnesota River crossings, said Steve Mielke, director of the county’s physical development division. Now, though, there are pressing needs for projects within the county that CTIB may not be able to help fund.

Since 2008, smaller counties have been told by the larger ones that “your time will come” at which point the larger city-dominated counties will support the suburban projects. But their projects — like the Woodbury-to-St. Paul bus line in Washington County which won’t open until at least 2023 — have only been on the drawing board while the big projects — mostly light rail — were ready to go.

Indeed, a 2014 analysis on streets.mn showed that Ramsey County was the overwhelming recipient of funds even though Hennepin County taxpayers contributed most of the cash.

Whether Dakota County is playing “chicken” — hoping for a better deal — is something we’ll find out next week when the county board meets again.

The underpinning of much of this, of course, is the ideological split over transit, which has long been in the cross-hairs of many Republican lawmakers who view it as a waste of money.

It’s possible that a six-county transit board could survive, if other suburban counties don’t take Dakota County’s hint. It will be a test of whether any part of Minnesota can cooperate despite ideological and geographical differences and rivalries.

  • wjc

    I guess all of those road and transit miles that take Dakota County residents to and from work in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties don’t count.

    I can understand that how the benefits of transportation projects are reckoned can be difficult to assess, but counting what is spent within the boundaries of the county doesn’t seem like the right calculation.

    • Thomas Mercier

      Let’s build a wall!

    • Hillary

      I used to live on Shepherd road in St. Paul, so I took the 35E bridge down to Mendota for groceries fairly often. During the 2008 election there were billboards at that bridge for local elections in Eagan and Burnsville.
      I live in the burbs and am happy to pay for transit. If my job doesn’t move again, my next house is going to be somewhere that can actually access it.

  • wendywulff

    There are currently five counties in CTIB, not seven. They are: Ramsey, Hennepin, Anoka, Washington, and Dakota. Scott and Carver opted not to join. The legislature gave them the option of imposing their own sales tax, which stays in the county, and can be used for roads and transit. Scott County recently opted to impose that local tax.

    • Yes, of course. Brain fart here. I’ll fix.

      • Cole Hiniker

        Also, the pooled sales tax for transit is only 0.25%, not 0.5%.One thing that makes this conversation difficult is that a significant number of park-and-riders on Blue Line come from Dakota County. At least a portion of that line’s operating cost should be factored into Dakota County’s return.

  • Gary F

    Dakota county looking better than ever for my exodus from St Paul and Ramsey County.

    http://www.twincities.com/2016/06/14/ramsey-county-commissioners-get-another-raise/

    • Matty Lang

      . . .

  • Kassie

    So what happens to the transit Dakota County does have if they pull out? I imagine the mayor of West St. Paul and the businesses and residents along Robert Street can’t be too happy about this.

    • That’s the big question. Can the county continue to charge the sales tax if it’s not part of CTIB. The Legislature has to approve any local sales tax increase but it already did in February 2008, assuming it would be used for CTIB.

      • Joe

        Yes, they can continue to charge it, and they will. They just want to spend it on roads and not transit, which they couldn’t do under the CTIB.

        297A.992 METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AREA SALES TAX.
        Subdivision 1.Definitions.

        For purposes of this section, the following terms have the meanings given them:

        (1) “metropolitan transportation area” means the counties participating in the joint powers agreement under subdivision 3;

        […]

        297A.993 GREATER MINNESOTA TRANSPORTATION Next Previous SALES Next AND USE Previous TAX Next .
        Subdivision 1.Authorization; rates.

        Notwithstanding
        section 297A.99, subdivisions 1, 2, 3, 5, and 13, or 477A.016, or any
        other law, the board of a county outside the metropolitan Previous
        transportation Next area, as defined under section 297A.992, subdivision
        1… may by resolution of the county board, or each of the county
        boards, following a public hearing impose (1) a Previous transportation
        Next Previous sales Next Previous tax Next at a rate of up to one-half
        of one percent on retail Previous sales Next and uses taxable under this
        chapter…

        […]

        Subd. 2.Allocation; termination.

        The
        proceeds of the taxes must be dedicated exclusively to: (1) payment of
        the capital cost of a specific Previous transportation Next project or
        improvement; (2) payment of the costs, which may include both capital
        and operating costs, of a specific transit project or improvement; (3)
        payment of the capital costs of a safe routes to school program under
        section 174.40; or (4) payment of transit operating costs. The Previous
        transportation or transit project or improvement must be designated by
        the board of the county, or more than one county acting under a joint
        powers agreement. Except for taxes for operating costs of a transit
        project or improvement, or for transit operations, the taxes must
        terminate when revenues raised are sufficient to finance the project.

    • Tim

      I think Eagan, Burnsville, and Apple Valley at a minimum would be unhappy too, and maybe other suburbs. Lots of transit use, and related development, in the northern part of the county.

      • Veronica

        And yet…southern and eastern Dakota County has little to NO public transit. Even on a city level, it’s nearly impossible to get around within Dakota County without a car.

        • Tim

          Yes. With Dakota County, it ranges from dense inner suburbs to very small towns surrounded by farmland, and everything in between. As such, like someone mentioned upthread, there will be a lot of different priorities.

  • Joe

    So Dakota County got one transit line (the Red line), and has another in the works (Orange line), and now they want out? Seems like a great strategy. Get your transit built, and then leave so you don’t have to pay for others.

  • Matty Lang

    Pat Garafalo is so silly. I’ll run a campaign statewide any day on the GOP rejecting billions of dollars for roads and bridges because of a bizarre insistence on killing LRT. How does the saying go? Bring it on, Pat.

    • Jeff

      Yep, we MUST have that train that will spend $1.79 billion dollars for a grand total of 15,000 daily riders. That amounts to $120,000/rider and for that price we could lease a Mercedes Benz, fill it up with gas for a grand total of 25 years for each one of those daily riders. But sure, let’s make the SWLRT a campaign issue.

      • Matty Lang

        Ok, Jeff. Don’t forget to add in the billions it will cost to acquire land to expand highways and provide parking lots through the western burbs for all of your Benz trips. Yeah, let’s make that the campaign issue.

        • Jeff

          The problem is that everyone uses roads, business uses roads, we can’t really collect sales tax, gasoline tax, tabs on vehicles without roads…by building that SWLRT there is literally no other use than for those 15,000 daily riders…only they benefit.

          • Matty Lang

            It’s about building a system that works for the entire state. I don’t personally benefit from the majority of rural highways in MN that I will never drive on and that goods I purchase will never be shipped on. That’s not the point.

          • Jeff

            But you still benefit somewhere along the line of that trade…lower prices for energy by getting fuel to power plants in North Dakota, you might go to the BWCA and that community around Ely needs those roads to live. Roads help for the free trade of goods and that benefits all of use no matter where we are in the state (of course need to refrain from over building, aka bridges to nowhere). Maybe the lumber that built your house was harvested “up North” and transported down those roads…or the iron in your car/phone/pipes was mined in northern Minnesota…you get my point…the SWLRT doesn’t do anything to help trade, at least any more than the same amount of money spent on roads would help the economy or trade.

          • Kassie

            And you benefit from trains, either less need for parking downtown, or lower prices for parking downtown or less pollution in the air you breathe, or housing prices increasing as people want to live places with mass transit.

          • Jeff

            Actually Uber is much more efficient at doing that…wait for those self driving cars used in combination with Uber services.

          • Matty Lang

            The LRT system absolutely helps trade by being a big part of a properly function economic engine of the state. We don’t have the land or the money to build the roads and parking that would be needed to move all of the people and goods around the metro region in cars/trucks only. It’s silly to even suggest that.

          • Jeff

            No, but Uber and self-driving cars are going to change all that…within 10-15 years…by the time the SWLRT is done being built.

          • Matty Lang

            Haha. So you think people are going to share trips in these self driving cars?

          • Jeff

            Maybe, maybe not, but it removes the need for infrastructure of parking lots in many locations…also, self driving cars will allow for much higher capacity on the roads. It may simply become more efficient for the Uber cars to pick up 3-4 people all going the same way, cheaper for those using the service…the logistical solutions become easier to see/feel when you put price tags on those sorts of things.

          • Matty Lang

            Because the cars will just circulate around when not in use? That sounds like a wonderful urban experience.

          • Jeff

            Depends, could be possible to constantly power them using induction and electric cars. Also, the areas where parking is expensive isn’t where we’d keep these cars (i.e. downtown Minneapolis)…most likely businesses would pop up and purchase wide areas of cheap land to put them on. Fewer cars would be needed overall since our cars sit idle at work or at our homes 90% of the time.

          • Matty Lang

            “since our cars sit idle at work or at our homes 90% of the time.” That’s exactly one of the many reasons is crazy to build cities around driving cars for all trips all of the time.

            Even if cars can be made somewhat more efficient than they currently are (which is staggeringly inefficient as you point out) they still should only be one of many options to use at appropriate times and places.

          • chris

            Why do you think the roads are busy at rush hour? Most people need their cars around the same time everyone else does. The “self-driving” shared cars of yours will also sit idle a lot of the time and there won’t be enough of them when they are requested. If it could work, it already would.

          • Jeff

            Yep, and a decade ago no one had a clue about having a computer in your pocket and Uber didn’t exist…but sure, “if it could work, it already would”, right?

          • Kassie

            Yes, Uber will save us all. If it even exists in 10 years.

          • chris

            Self-driving cars are a pipe dream that won’t happen in your lifetime. Too many questions no one wants to answer. Self-driving isn’t even the right word. They don’t have a “self”. They drive according to programming written by people.

          • Kassie

            Someone (maybe you) pointed out on twitter today that we don’t even have self-driving trains at this point. To think self-driving cars will come soon is nonsense.

          • Jeff

            Yep, most likely they’re using PID controllers and state space systems to manipulate the vehicle…you’re free to call it whatever you’d like but the media has picked up on the name “self-driving”, even though automated driving cars is probably a bit more accurate. BTW, most people believe they are coming soon and many are on the road right now!

          • Jay T. Berken

            As a transportation system (as well as electric or manufacturing line), it is built out to the known demand. As that demand increases, the system first fails at its pinch points. So as an entity over looking the system, the cheapest fixes is to go after the pinch points, and when the overall arteries are to small for the demand (i.e. road size or wire size), you either can increase the size of the arteries, make the system more efficient and/or produce an alternative source for the demand. By taking “those 15,000 daily riders” off the highways in that corridor would help the demand on the overall of the transportation system includes “everyone uses roads, business uses roads”.

            Let’s put it another way, would you like to banish all freight trains since not everyone uses them and put all that freight on our roads in using semi-trucks? Choo-choo trains are for children, right?

          • Jeff

            I don’t have a problem with freight trains…just the people movers.

      • Cole Hiniker

        This is a really strange way to talk about the costs of light rail. It’s part of a system that provides choices versus the already congested road system. And it provides additional transportation capacity for when roads are under construction, which they will be quite a bit now the system is reaching the end of its useful life. Providing alternatives to the highway system is a valuable part of a metropolitan area in order to create redundancy and choice. Light rail is an effective tool in ensuring that redundant routes will not be impacted by roadway congestion in the same way buses are impacted today.

        Many roads are used for multiple purposes like freight, goods, etc. But it’s important to remember that MOST roads in the state are never used for anything but to access homes. Also, if you believe in self-driving cars so much, it’s important to note that a transit system that operates in a controlled right-of-way will be much easier to implement this technology than general use traffic lanes. I think Uber does have some first-last mile potential. Overall though, light rail is much more cost-effective at moving a lot of people than the total cost of providing Uber service.

        • Jeff

          The problem is that there aren’t “a lot of people” who are going to use this line…a total of 15,000 daily weekday riders was estimated by the Met Council, that’s not enough to warrant this project which will cost $1.79 billion when we could focus in on buses and building better roads with more lanes.

          • Cole Hiniker

            You keep referencing 15,000 “riders.” I’m not sure if you’re suggesting that because 15,000 people will use it twice every day or if you’re just confused. The projected ridership is 34,000 weekday in 2040. Also, both LRT lines have done much better than their projections. 34,000 daily riders is actually about 2 lanes of daily traffic on some of the busier freeway segments in the Twin Cities. The problem with expanding freeways is there often just isn’t enough space and they’re going to become congested again anyway. We have plenty opportunities and investments planned with buses, but in the highest demand corridors, LRT attracts significantly more users and helps balance out travel in the region across different modes in the system.

          • Jeff

            Do the math there…this is pretty basic logic…34,000 daily rides…one way…now divide that by 2 since most of us make a round trip so the specific number of people riding are 17,000. Now you just said that was predicted by 2040…so before 2040 there would be less (due to population differences and not everyone is willing to use the light rail just yet) which is why I’m using the 15,000 number (which would be much more realistic by 2025 or 2030). Math, learn it and come back to have a conversation with me.

          • Cole Hiniker

            Awfully strong reaction to a bunch of unexplained assumptions that you did not address. You failed to address my basic points about building a comprehensive transportation system that includes all modes. Believe it or not, the light rail system serves more than just the same people to and from work everyday. In fact, there a number of survey tools that indicate that more than twice as many people are exposed to transit every week than the number you’d expect than with your basic, uneducated assumptions. I can tell you that I barely use most roads in my community or county but I still pay the same share of property taxes as everyone else to build and maintain those roads. I also haven’t been in a public school in decades but my property taxes pay for those. Government pays for things that not everyone uses because these things make society more complete and accessible to everyone. That’s kind of a basic role of government. Building roads and only roads leads to a system that has no competitive options or alternatives, thus creating societal dependencies that are not healthy. There’s a reason the business community is fully behind SWLRT, because it helps make this region more attractive economical and talent wise to have lifestyle choices that are broader than just a single-minded approach. Young people now move to places for quality of life (good transit being high on that list) and then find jobs as opposed to the old model of moving to a job and trying to create quality of life.

          • Jeff

            Wait a minute, my “basic, uneducated assumptions”??? I specifically referenced the Met Council’s data, it’s right here:

            http://metrocouncil.org/Transportation/Projects/Current-Projects/Southwest-LRT/Publications-And-Resources/Project-Facts/SWLRT-Project-Facts-(August-2015).aspx

            “Ridership in 2040 is forecasted at approximately 34,000 average weekday boardings.”

            I based it on their numbers not my “basic, uneducated assumptions”!

            BTW, even if YOU rarely use roads the groceries, deliveries and any goods or services that you use are being delivered using those roads.

            Finally, our current infrastructure limitations and behaviors might change drastically even with roads and cars in the next 10-20 years (by the time the light rail line would be finished). With automated driving cars, electric cars and Uber-like services we could see certain modes of transportation like light rail become completely obsolete.

          • Cole Hiniker

            I would suggest making your assumptions a bit more clear in your original post in the future, lest you want to be questioned about your knowledge level. I’m still wondering how building more lanes for 10,000-20,000 trips a day (or 5,000-10,000 drivers in your method) is wholeheartedly better than building light rail for 34,000. And where do we put these lanes? Remember, I-35W/Hwy 62 reconstruction cost $300M and hardly did anything to make I-35W traffic better. It just moved the congestion to the next bottleneck that’s going to cost at least $1 billion to try to fix. I guess we agree to disagree though, on the future of transportation and the role of a comprehensive system approach.

            Remember, there are a whole TON of roads that even the goods that I use never come into contact with but I still pay for. We have so many cul-de-sac neighborhoods and neighborhood arterials, particularly in suburban communities, that only provide localized travel. And I certainly don’t buy enough stuff to justify the property taxes that I pay for roads to get me my local good, compared to other households. It’s not that I mind paying for these things because I understand the importance of providing good access for everyone, but let’s not treat transit as some kind of special transportation idea that shouldn’t be invested in because it doesn’t serve EVERYONE.

          • Jeff

            Keep in mind the people who use the roads are paying gasoline taxes (state & federal)…meanwhile you’re likely receiving a $10-20 subsidy every time you use the light rail. There would be almost no sales tax collected if we didn’t have roads, and roads help move every good across this country. Your property taxes don’t pay for any of the roads outside of your local area…all those goods and services have to travel across the entire nation, you aren’t contributing to any of that infrastructure if you don’t pay gas taxes. Time to take a moment and realize the transportation trains are special little carve outs that only benefit those few who use them…they are subsidized and those who use them aren’t paying for the whole cost.

            BTW, who would even want to use a train when cars will automatically pick you up and drop you off at a specific location on either end without having to stop and pick up others?

          • Cole Hiniker

            12,000 miles/year @ 30 MPG = 400 gallons/year. $0.47 tax/gallon = $188/year. That’s only about 1/3 of what we all spend on government transportation/year.

            Well over $200 of my property taxes go toward roads and bridges combined at the County and City level. Also, the federal Highway Trust Fund is now getting a significant amount of funding from federal general revenues because gas tax revenues aren’t keeping up with inflation needs. More money from the general fund.

            We built two trains lines here and they are carrying well over their projections and now account for 1 of every 7 transit rider. We shouldn’t build trains everywhere, but there are places where they make sense. The public generally supports transit investments and you can see that support by all the use and people moving to new developments along the lines. I think it’s time to stop pitting roads and transit against each other and start thinking about the bigger picture for how we remain competitive as a region for talent and jobs.

          • Jeff

            Here’s the reference, see how they use the term “boardings” assuming people go home on the light rail we can know that the number of people using the light rail line would be cut in half by using the number of rides each weekday.

            http://metrocouncil.org/Transportation/Projects/Current-Projects/Southwest-LRT/Publications-And-Resources/Project-Facts/SWLRT-Project-Facts-(August-2015).aspx

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    I wish this delusional concept of “eternal growth” would go away. Growth has ruined many great places…

  • This is great! It is about time the counties started to stand up to the Met Council and Central Planners who want us to look and live like Europe in dense housing. I am running for Dakota County commissioner, and one of my issues is saying “NO” more often to taxes for other people’s transportation wants and alleged needs. Just say NO to trains too. http://www.votescottdj.org

    • Jeff

      I happen to like cities and countries with an integrated and diverse transportation system. What is your vision for the future? More roads? “NO” without presenting an alternative doesn’t seem like much of a plan to me.

      • Thank you for asking. My plan is to always start with “No” on any spending project until those who are requesting it can prove it is wanted, needed, and affordable. Too many politicians forget they are spending their neighbor’s money and that they should approve all ‘feel good’ projects without any thought just because someone wants it. Trains are not efficient, nor affordable, for the typical Minnesota resident. Automobiles and buses make more sense.

    • Jay T. Berken

      I’m reading a book about FDR, and during his first race for NY State Senate, he would travel the district by car which was unheard of. There were laws in that day which the farmers pushed to reduce the use of cars because they were worried about their animals getting spooked by car engines. One of the laws was when traveling on roads and a car and a horse drawn carriage are to cross each other, the car is to give righ-of-way to the car and turn off its engine to not spook the horse. Maybe we should look at going back to horse and buggy since they have less demand on our roads?

      “Just say NO to trains too.” – Are you against freight trains also? Should we be placing its freight on our roads also?