Local city and business leaders on Thursday emphatically urged the Counties Transit Improvement Board not to take “disruptive action” by backing out of its share of the $150 million Orange Line bus rapid transit project.
The project faces a Sept. 2 deadline to secure most or all of its local funding in order to compete with 39 other projects around the country for federal money. Orange Line planners are seeking $66 million from the federal government.
“We are at a critical point,” Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said Thursday at a press event at Highway 13 and Nicollet Avenue, site of a planned Orange Line transit station in Burnsville. “This is not the time for disruptive action; we need to embrace regional cooperation.”
CTIB was set to fund the largest local portion of the project — $45 million — but is now considering cutting all Orange Line funding in the wake of new budget constraints. One of the board’s founding funding partners, Dakota County, voted in June to shed its membership in the group and take its approximately $15 million annual contribution with it.
The decision sent the regional transit funding board scrambling last month to balance its budget in the long term.
Even so, on Thursday city officials from Burnsville, Bloomington, Minneapolis and Richfield stood alongside business leaders from the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Minneapolis Downtown Council and the Burnsville Chamber of Commerce to urge the regional transit board to allocate its share.
“It would be an absolute tragedy not to get the job done over the next few weeks,” John Stanoch, interim president and CEO for the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce said.
The high-frequency line would travel along Interstate 35W between Burnsville, which is in Dakota County, and downtown Minneapolis.
Delaying the project will hurt job growth in the region, increase costs and extend construction time along Interstate 35W, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has already scheduled construction in 2017 along the freeway, which is the most heavily traveled corridor in the metro area. City leaders want to combine the projects to save time and money.
Without the Counties Transit Improvement Board’s $45 million, Metro Transit’s federal funding application will be much weaker, or may not happen this year, Charles Carlson, senior manager of bus rapid transit projects at Metro Transit, said Thursday. Other local funding for the 17-mile line is being secured from the state, Hennepin County, and the Metropolitan Council.
CTIB is funded through a quarter-cent sales tax from Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka and Washington counties, which each have a decision-making spot on the joint-powers board.