Newport transit work gets approval on split vote; Weik cites concerns about odors, location
The Newport Transit Station is finally moving head, though it wasn’t a unanimous vote that will get it to the construction phase.
Washington County Board Chairwoman Lisa Weik, of Woodbury, voted against a contract to start work on the station that will serve as a park and ride facility and possibly a stop along a future commuter rail line.
The county plans to use Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) money to partially fund the $6.2 million project. CTIB is a regional coalition that funds transit projects in the metropolitan area through a dedicated quarter-cent sales tax.
But Weik said Nov. 5 she didn’t want approving the funding at this time to set precedent for park and ride locations currently in the works, such as the new one coming to Woodbury’s Manning Avenue next year.
“To me this is not just accepting a bid award,” she said. “This is a major policy change.”
Engineers were recommending approval of the $970,000 contract to start construction and electrical work on the station.
The project was bid separately for demolition and construction to save money as county and city of Newport staff worked to revise the original plans and attract lower bids.
The $1.3 million contract for demo, grading, utilities, paving, landscaping and irrigation was approved by the board, acting as the Washington County Regional Railroad Authority, in October.
The board was presented with a resolution to approve the second contract for construction and electrical work Tuesday, Nov. 5, where it passed 3-1 with Weik casting the only dissenting vote and Commissioner Autumn Lehrke, whose district includes Newport, abstaining due to a conflict of interest.
Calling nearby odors “offensive,” Weik expressed concerns over the close proximity of the Newport Transit Station site, formerly Knox Lumber, to a garbage processing plant, and if it would make riders steer away from the location.
She was also leery of the site’s potential to serve as a stop for bus rapid transit or light rail transit along the future Red Rock Corridor.
“People riding the bus, I don’t know that they’d pick that spot,” Weik said.
The county purchased the 11-acre site in 2010 for $3.2 million with plans to use five acres for the transit hub and the rest for future development.
County Engineer Wayne Sandberg said the site’s access from Interstate 494, Highway 61 and from Bailey Road makes it a desirable location and a “significant opportunity for transit development.”
Plans to install fiber optic are in the works since it would be more cost effective to work into the project’s construction phase and would also make it attractive to riders, Sandberg said.
Commissioner Ted Bearth told Weik to think of the Newport Transit Station as a “swaddling baby that will eventually grow.”
“I think this is appropriate,” he said. “It’s the right time, it’s the right project.”
Commissioner Gary Kriesel said the Red Rock Corridor Commission spent a lot of time and effort planning for the Newport Transit Station to make sure it fits the corridor’s future needs for commuter rail.
Projects like the Red Rock and Gateway corridors take investment “in good faith” and to pull the rug from underneath the contractors at this point would be a bad move, he said.
“Not to move forward at this point, we took one step forward we’d be taking two steps back,” Kriesel said.
The board awarded the $970,000 contract to Meisinger Construction.
Construction for the Newport Transit Station is budgeted at $2.4 million with funds coming from federal grants, Regional Railroad Authority levy, state bonds and CTIB.
The station is slated to open in October 2014 with express bus service to St. Paul running on the first day.