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Red Rock Corridor Commission discuses BRT funding options

The Red Rock Corridor Commission convened a workshop Thursday, Aug. 31 to address funding challenges for the implementation of bus rapid transit along the Red Rock Corridor.

The workshop, at the Washington County South Service Center, included input from transportation public policy professionals on the federal, regional and local levels.

The commission heard from Jeff Boothe, a partner at Holland and Knight, a Washington D.C. law firm. Boothe, a lobbyist, helps shepherd transit projects through the federal funding approval process.

Speaking via Skype, Boothe said the best bet was for the commission to apply for Small Starts, a federal capital investment program that gives money to transit projects under $250 million. Capital costs for the BRT are $55 million.

For commission chair Autumn Lehrke, the presentation seemed to affirm the commission’s decision to choose all-day bus service instead of the more costly commuter rail, which would have cost $585 million.

“Generally Small Starts programs do have a better chance because of a smaller capital amount,” she said. “There’s less money to come up with.”

Boothe also mentioned several justification criteria that decision-makers in Washington consider when awarding funds for transportation projects. Among them were cost-effectiveness, land use and economic development — three areas that Lehrke said the commission emphasized in their plans.

“I was really pleased to hear that it appears we are on the right track for federal funding requirements,” she said.

Federal funding will pay for about half of the project, said Lehrke, who is also a Washington County commissioner. About 30 percent will come from the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), 10 percent from the state of Minnesota and a matching 10 percent from the Washington County Regional Railroad Authority.

Boothe is a strategic consultant for CTIB, which distributes funds generated from a quarter percent transit sales tax for transit projects in Washington, Dakota, Ramsey, Hennepin and Anoka counties.

Last month, CTIB allocated a conditional $55 million grant for the Red Rock Corridor as part of its programs and projects funding package. Mary Richardson, a public policy lawyer and administrator for CTIB, outlined some of the steps that the commission needed to take in applying for the grant.

The Red Rock BRT would expand bus service along a 30-mile stretch from Hastings to St. Paul’s Union Depot. It would include stops every 15 minutes at Cottage Grove, Newport and Lower Afton Road. Three express bus lines — 361, 364 and 365 — already service the route.

The approach is similar to the Metro Red Line, a bus rapid transit system in Dakota County.

Kristine Elwood, transit and multi-modal programs manager at Dakota County Transportation Department, attended the workshop. She discussed the challenges and lessons in implementing the Metro Red Line, the first bus rapid transit system in the Twin Cities.

Six of the 11 commission members were present. In addition to Lehrke, they included

Barb Hollenbeck of Hastings, Mike Slavik of Denmark Township, Jen Peterson of Cottage Grove, Steven Gallagher of Newport and Janice Reitman of Ramsey County.

The commission meets later this month to discuss the next step in the funding process.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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