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County chastises Met Council plan

It's a plan that lacks vision for the I-94 gateway into the Twin Cities and fails to address the possibilities of high-speed rail among other concerns affecting the Washington County and the region as a whole.

Those are some of the main points conveyed by Washington County in a letter it sent last week to the Metropolitan Council to provide feedback on the organization's 20-year plan for transportation improvements in the region.

The Met Council approved its draft 2030 transportation policy plan earlier this year and has asked cities and counties in the metro area to provide feedback on the plan before it makes it final.

The county's letter addressed to Met Council Chairman Peter Bell was approved Nov. 4 by the Washington County Board of Commissioners and states that the plan lacks vision for the region as a whole and fails to address the future transit demands of the east metro.

"(The 2030 Transportation Policy Plan) needs to present a more hopeful future for the region to aspire to rather than the presented plan of accepting an inadequate system," the letter signed by Washington County Board Chair Dennis Hegberg stated.

The letter offers a summary of the county's feedback on the plan and then offers point-by-point feedback from each of the plan's 12 chapters.

Included in that feedback are several statements on how the plan ignores the opportunity to engage the region in discussion of high-speed rail from the Twin Cities to Chicago, which the county believes will help spur commuter rail into the Red Rock corridor, which stretches from St. Paul and down into southern Washington County and Dakota County.

"[The Met Council plan] needs to take a stronger role to promote and lead the effor to implement a high speed rail corridor to Chicago and other regions throughout the Upper Midwest," the letter stated. "The implementation of high speed rail will have a positive impact on delivering commuter rail within the same corridors. This is especially true for the Red Rock corridor."

The state is a member of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative with eight other states that has a goal to develop a high speed passenger rail system to connect cities like the Twin Cities and Chicago via trains that travel up to 110 mph.

Washington County staff reviewed the 200-plus page Met Council transportation plan last month before authoring the letter which it presented for review to commissioners.

Washington County public works director Don Theisen, who helped write the letter, said the Met Council plan does not meet the demands of a growing Washington County.

"[The Met Council] does not provide the transportation system that is needed for the growth that the Met Council development plan expects in Washington County," Theisen said at the board meeting.

County commissioner Myra Peterson said she feels the urgent comments in the county letter are supported by similar comments coming from the Red Rock Corridor Commission (which she is a member) and other counties and municipalities.

"We're very encouraged by Minneapolis and St. Paul to come on board and make those strident comments," she said. "There's a commitment of the region to develop the regional system. It may not come from policy makers at the Met Council, but it's coming from elected representatives across the region."