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Grant sought for transit station

Washington County transportation officials will solicit more than $2 million from the Counties Transit Improvement Board to purchase property for a future Newport transit station after county commissioners approved the grant application last week.

The move to seek $2.55 million in funding is another step toward the goal held by transit advocates and county transportation planners of locating a park and ride lot in Newport.

The transit station is intended to build mass transit use along the Red Rock Corridor from St. Paul to Hastings, said Ted Schoenecker, a transportation planning manager with Washington County.

Both Washington County and Newport officials included the transit station in their draft 2030 comprehensive plans. The station -- intended to eventually support both commuter rail and bus riders -- is also in the county's five-year capital improvement plan.

"This project is in a good stage for being ready to go," Schoenecker said.

City and county officials have discussed three possible station locations on Newport's west side -- two along Seventh Avenue near the Glen Road overpass and another at the 11-acre former Knox Lumber site in the city's northwest corner, near the junction of Highway 61 and Interstate 494.

Schoenecker said the grant application does not require an immediate site selection. Officials from Newport and Washington County will meet Thursday to discuss the Knox property, considered by some as the site with the most potential for transit-related commercial development -- and preferred by the Red Rock Corridor Commission and its chair, Washington County Commissioner Myra Peterson -- but also touted by city officials as Newport's best opportunity for large-scale redevelopment.

Recent developer interest in the property sparked the need for Thursday's meeting, Newport city administrator Brian Anderson said.

A site won't be chosen at the workshop, the city administrator said, but he guessed officials would have a clearer idea afterward of which location council members prefer.

"There's a new council, a lot of new stuff at the table," Anderson said. "It's not that same old question."

Schoenecker said county transportation planners do not favor one site over another. He did say, though, the Knox property "has some great potential."

"In the short-term, if there's a park and ride, it has quick and easy access to the interstate or regional highway system," Schoenecker said. "Long-term, it's immediately adjacent to the railroad tracks," which makes the site attractive as a Red Rock Commuter Rail stop.

If the Counties Transit Improvement Board approves the grant request, Washington County would be required to acquire a site for the transit station in 2010.

The grant funding sought by Washington County is funded by a .25 percent sales tax in Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties.

Washington County is guaranteed 3 percent of the board's estimated $85 million revenue in 2010, which equals roughly the $2.55 million requested by transportation planning officials.