Mpls.-Burnsville bus line moves forward

Metropolitan Council chair Adam Duininck, right
Metropolitan Council chair Adam Duininck, right, said the board's approval of $37.5 million for the project is a step forward.
Brandt Williams | MPR News

Plans for a 17-mile bus rapid transit line between Minneapolis and Burnsville took a step forward, as members of the Counties Transit Improvement Board, or CTIB, approved committing $37.5 million to the $150.7 million project.

Supporters of the bus line worried that a recent shake-up inside CTIB would prevent the board from meeting a Sept. 2 Federal Transportation Administration application deadline and jeopardize the project. Dakota County, which is home to the southern end of the Orange Line, recently announced it will leave CTIB in 2019. However, Thomas Egan, a board representative from Dakota County, said the county's departure will not kill the project.

"Dakota County takes extreme umbrage with the assertion that there is a direct correlation between the failure to be able to fund the Orange Line and the action taken by Dakota County," said Egan. "The Orange Line is a project that Dakota County has supported in the past and is currently supporting very, very vigorously at the present time."

Transit board chair and Hennepin County commissioner Peter McLaughlin said most importantly the vote means there's now enough money committed to submit the application to the FTA.

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"The reason this is very timely is the Sept. 2 application can go in and we'll have 83 percent of the local funding committed," said McLaughlin.

However, the state has yet to commit to its share, which amounts to $12.1 million. Lawmakers couldn't agree on a transportation spending bill during the regular session.

The chair of the Senate transportation committee, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said the Senate passed a spending bill last session that would have filled the shortfall. That bill failed to pass both chambers, but Dibble said there's still hope.

"There's rock-solid support on a bipartisan and cross-geographic basis to keep those dollars in place," said Dibble. "So let's all light candles to the Holy Mother and pray for a special session."

House and Senate leaders are expected to meet Thursday to discuss the possibility of a special session.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he's nearly done trying to negotiate with House Republicans to call a special session to pass a tax cut and a public works construction bill. Three months after the regular session ended, Dayton said Republicans still refuse to budge on allowing Hennepin County to raise its sales tax to pay for the local share of the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit line.

And the cost of the project keeps going up. The head of LRT project development for the Met Council, Mark Fuhrmann, told the CTIB board that the lack of a commitment from the state to fund the line is adding nearly $1 million a week to the project cost.

The planned 15-mile line would run from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. Fuhrmann said the project's $1.85 billion budget includes an additional $19 million in costs incurred by the delay.