CTIB breakup fight won't stop local projects

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Washington County

Stop the bus. We want to get off, say four members of the Counties Transit Improvement Board.

Not so fast, says the fifth member.

With a deadline less than two weeks away, the dissolution of CTIB remains uncertain.

Anoka, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties want out of CTIB, which was formed in 2008 to help pay for regional transit projects such as the Green Line light rail transit route between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

But all five counties must agree to terminate the joint powers agreement by March 31.

That fifth member, Dakota County, could keep the organization together for at least another 18 months if they're not given a bigger share of unspent CTIB funds.

The March 31 deadline must be met so some counties can double the sales tax that is currently capped at one-quarter percent under CTIB. The money would be a more reliable source of funding since the state's share of transit funds is in limbo, officials said.

Whatever happens, plans for the east metro's Gold Line bus-rapid transit project will proceed, Washington County Commissioner Lisa Weik of Woodbury said. The express service would run a round-trip route between Union Depot in St. Paul to Bielenberg Drive in Woodbury.

They have funding contingencies in place for either outcome, she said.

"We have done our financials," she said. "We have done our due diligence. I don't see a downside for Washington County if CTIB isn't dissolved."

The county also will continue pursuing a Red Rock Corridor bus-rapid transit project from St. Paul to Hastings.

While there would be no sales tax increase in Washington County, the board will hold a public hearing March 21 to discuss reimposing the same sales tax in case CTIB is disbanded.

Dakota County has rejected $16.5 million that they would get under the CITB dissolution. Commissioner Mary Liz Holberg said they're entitled to $29 million.

CTIB Commissioner Peter McLaughlin of Hennepin County said that figure is unrealistic.

McLaughlin spoke after a March 14 CTIB meeting, where dissolution was not on agenda.

"Mary Liz said we were on different planets," he said. "Their planet is now out of orbit as far as I'm concerned."

Since 2008, CTIB has funded transit projects with shared revenue from a quarter-percent sales tax in the member counties and a $20 excise tax on vehicle retail sales.

The development phase project of the Gold Line is expected to cost $25 million. Under the current funding scenario, the state's cost share would be $5 million. CTIB would pay $15 million and Ramsey County would pay $2.5 million.

If CTIB is dissolved, the state's cost share would be $2 million. CTIB would pay $12 million and Ramsey County would pay $8.5 million.

Washington County's cost share would remain $2.5 million either way.

The next CTIB meeting is March 28.