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Hargis named to advisory committee

Since he first became mayor of Woodbury in 1993, Bill Hargis has been focused on transportation.

He found out early in his tenure that Woodbury was more than a bedroom community for people working in nearby St. Paul.

"I remember when I first started door-knocking I learned that a lot of the two- income families in Woodbury had one person working in Minneapolis and one working in a suburb south of St. Paul," Hargis said. "That's when I realized this was a community that needed to have a seat at the table when it came to transportation issues for the region."

Hargis secured another seat for Woodbury at the table late last month when he was one of a half-dozen elected municipal officials appointed to serve on an advisory committee for the newly created County Transit Improvement Board.

The transit board, which is made up county commissioners from Washington, Ramsey, Hennepin, Anoka and Dakota counties, will select metro area transportation projects to receive funding that was generated by a quarter-cent sales tax that took effect last month.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners narrowly voted to approve the tax earlier this year.

Carver and Scott counties were the only two counties in the seven-county metro area that voted not to enact the transportation tax.

Hargis, who also serves on a regional transportation advisory board that makes recommendations on how to allocate federal transportation funding in the metro, said making Woodbury an economically viable community has been one of his top priorities as a locally-elected official.

"To be economically viable you have to have a good transportation system," Hargis said. "And that comes from a multi-modal approach."

Since Hargis became mayor, Woodbury has advocated for more park and rides, an enhanced Wakota Bridge project, the Tamarack Road interchange and an express bus to downtown Minneapolis.

"When we got that express bus bringing people directly from Woodbury to Minneapolis, that's when I really became a believer in how important transit is to a city's success," he said.

An equitable approach

While serving on the Grant Evaluation and Ranking System (GEARS) committee, Hargis will help evaluate and make funding recommendations on a number of potential transportation projects throughout the metro area.

The County Transportation Improvement Board will approve the projects, as the funding source will be from the quarter-cent sales tax that each participating county approved earlier this year.

Hargis, who was chosen to be the Washington County representative on the advisory committee, said he'll make sure Woodbury has its voice heard in the debates over where the money will be spent. But he also said the goal of the committee is to make sure funds are being dispersed in an equitable fashion.

"Everyone on this advisory committee is committed to equity," he said. "We're not serving to advocate for our own parochial interests. We're looking at this region as a whole."

Ultimately, Hargis said projects that will serve Woodbury directly are bound to come up in grant evaluation and ranking process. In the long term Hargis sees the potential of a full-service transit station being built in Woodbury, similar to one that opened in Maple Grove in 2003.

"I think, down the road, that's an example of how this transportation money could be used," Hargis said. "But whether we have the population density out here is what affects the potential of such projects."

Woodbury is projected by the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council to reach 80,000 in population by 2030. But the metro area population is expected to increase by more than 500,000, which is why Hargis said the advisory committee will take a regional approach in recommending funding for projects.

"We'll see how things work out in the long run, but I think the ultimate goal is to allocate the dollars to make this a competitive region as a whole," he said.