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Gateway panel to consider bonding request this week

Traffic flows smoothly along the rerouted Interstate 494 south of Valley Creek Road in Woodbury.

State dollars for a bus-rapid transit system through Woodbury would begin flowing as soon as this year under a proposal being considered this week by a transportation panel.

The Gateway Corridor Commission is expected to vote at its Thursday, Dec. 13, on a proposal for Washington County to request $1 million in borrowed funds from the state. According to a commission memo, the funding would go toward preliminary engineering work.

The memo states the request is based on "bond-eligible" work to begin no earlier than 2014. The state's funding share of the project - which Gateway commissioners agreed should focus on bus-rapid transit - is 10 percent, while 50 percent of funding is expected to come from federal sources.

The state's share ranges from $43 million to $100 million, and federal dollars would be between $216 million and $497 million, according to the memo.

"The $1 million could be considered a down payment on future state investments," the memo states.

Gateway Corridor commissioners in October placed BRT on the inside track among transit options sought to alleviate anticipated east-metro traffic congestion on Interstate 94 in coming years.

The plan calls for a dedicated high-speed busing route that - through Woodbury - would run south of Interstate 94 to Manning Avenue, where the corridor would end after beginning at St. Paul's Union Depot.

Lawmakers' top priority in the 2013 legislative session will be passing a two-year budget, so it's not clear whether any bonding proposals would even be considered.

However, the top Minnesota House Republican says he could accept a public works funding bill next year.

Minority Leader-elect Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the state's two-year budget would have to be written before the House can pass a public works bill, which would be funded by the state selling bonds.

In talking to a group visiting the Capitol, Daudt left open some questions when he said: "I don't think we are going to try to hold things up on a bonding bill."

But when reporters asked him later, he explained that the budget must wrap up first. Then, he said, a 2013 bonding bill is possible.

Daudt said Republicans he leads will have little say in the outcome of most issues in 2013's legislative session, but Democrats do need some GOP votes to pass a bonding bill, which requires more than a simple majority.

Bonding bills usually are passed in even-numbered years, but several Democrats say they would like one next year.

Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau Chief Don Davis contributed to this report

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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