Dakota County Leaves the CTIB: the Orange Line is in Jeopardy

The Orange Line in Jeopardy

Dakota County has decided to leave the CTIB (County Transit Improvement Board). The CTIB allegedly retaliated by refusing to fill a $12 million gap from the failed bonding bill with CTIB funds; this puts the Orange Line in jeopardy as the bulk of the funding ($120 out of $150 million) is expected to come from the CTIB pot. Thus the entire project could be delayed or even dropped.

One thing is very, very important: The highway portion of the I-35W/Orange Line project in south Minneapolis must be under contract by June 30, 2018.  This is not a MnDOT policy decision,  or even a bluff or ultimatum, but state law. The flyover bridge from I-35W north to I-94 west, and the braid bridge carrying southbound I-35W over the northbound downtown exits ramp are both Chapter 152 bridges, in poor condition. In the wake of the I-35W bridge collapse, these were two bridges required to be replaced. The plan is to take advantage to reconfigure the interchanges to reduce the extreme congestion problems and allow for the Orange Line. If there’s no funding for BRT, or at least the capital improvements in the area like the Lake Street BRT station and the direct BRT ramps to downtown, then the project will proceed without BRT.  Of course they could just leave dirt in the middle for future Orange Line improvements, but now you’re dealing with construction inflation and the inefficiencies and disruption of doing it in two pieces.

A second complication is the I-35W Minnesota River bridge is scheduled for replacement starting  in 2020, a year after the Orange Line is scheduled to open. The existing bridge is deteriorating, and the southbound side has substandard lanes and no shoulder (a result of a modification to squeeze in an auxiliary lane). As a regular user, I believe this can’t come soon enough. The project will include a new northbound auxiliary lane and a bicycle trail also. But there will be the usual pain of construction congestion and the High Occupancy Vehicle / Toll Lane will only be available in the peak direction during construction. Concerns have been raised about the ability of the Orange Line to enter from the right at MN 13, get over to the center lane, and then get back to the right to exit at 98th street with the construction related increased congestion. If the project is delayed a year or so it could develop an unsavory reputation for delays right off the bat, the sort that are plaguing NorthStar.

I-35W Minnesota River Bridge

I-35W Minnesota River Bridge, in worse shape than it looks.

The Reasons For Leaving

Dakota County is pretty upfront that they feel they are not getting out of CTIB what they put in and they want to use a local tax to fund road projects instead. But you can’t help but wonder if the lack of rail service has something to do with it. Rail bias is pretty strong in the suburbs; I know quite a few people who use light rail to get to downtown, but haven’t been on a bus in decades. Once I even went to downtown St. Paul on light rail which would have taken half the time on the bus. I recall an anecdote on the forums: a visitor from out-of-town got on the Green Line in downtown Minneapolis instead of the Blue Line and wound up perplexed at Union Depot instead of the Mall of America. The commenter offered to show her how to use the bus, but she declined and got back on the Green Line towards Minneapolis instead.  Putting a fancy name on a bus and putting it on the transit map as a purported equal to a rail line is unlikely to convince people who don’t ride buses to do so. The underwhelming performance of the Red Line could be that it doesn’t go downtown or the long scenic route (now being fixed with CTIB funds) around Cedarvale, but it could just be rail bias cannot be overcome.

The existing rail lines are pretty useless for the majority of Dakota County residents. I’m sure there are some that use the 28th Avenue park and ride, but to get there you have to fight horrendous congestion on the Cedar Avenue bridge so you might as well keep driving towards downtown. Hennepin County has gotten the Green Line, the Blue Line and (assuming funding for those doesn’t fall apart too) the Green and Blue Line extensions; Anoka County has Northstar; Ramsey has the Green Line and possibly the Riverview Line and Rush Line. Meanwhile Dakota County doesn’t have an inch of track and there’s nothing even remotely planned.  The Robert Street Streetcar seems to be stalled and there’s even a law against studies on the Dan Patch corridor. Had the Blue Line gone across the river and/or I-35W LRT been built, would Dakota County feel differently? I know I’m going to get flooded with comments about “we shouldn’t build LRT to cornfield,” so I’m not going to argue yes or no here and maybe it’s OK to let Dakota County leave if we’d have to do that, but I’m just throwing out one possibility for why they feel the way they do.

Of course, just as important would be better service to those people who already choose to or are required to use transit, which includes reverse commuters or people who want to shop in Burnsville’s Heart of the City or in the future Burnsville Mall. But I submit there’s not large numbers of those in Dakota County, at least not in comparison to the city (where even the overwhelming majority of households own car) or at least they don’t have a lot of political influence. Common too are people who work downtown and willing to ride express buses, for whom the Orange Line doesn’t offer much of an advantage, aside from maybe the ability to get home at an odd time if kids get sick or for doctors appointments.

One of the issues in trying to attract new riders and better service to dense areas is the station location at Heart of the City. Do you run service to the existing mammoth park and ride station separated by the pedestrian-hostile MN 13? Or do you build a new station with much less parking but much closer to and on the same side of the highway as the buildings? Perhaps being realistic about the potential to attract new “choice” riders, Dakota County chose the latter. There’s a proposal to do something about the intersection, but in addition to the usual funding problems, MnDOT is waiting for Burnsville to decide if they want to upscale it into an interchange, or downscale it into more a local street. Either would be vastly superior to pedestrians trying to cross it as it is now.

Scott County Opted Out 

So what could Dakota County do now that they’re out? Take the case of Scott County. If a county is not in the CTIB, they are allowed to levy a local sales tax of up to 1/2 of 1% for transportation purposes. Scott County was never in the CTIB, and they have in fact chosen to levy the sales tax along with a $20 excise tax on motor vehicle sales. This gives them $6 million a year until the tax sunsets at the end of 2022. Scott County plans to use $1 million for transit and the remainder for highway safety and expansion projects; some projects have been planned for close to two decades and some have just popped up out of nowhere.

Here’s a list:

  1. New interchanges on County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 17 (Marschall Road) at CSAH 14, at CSAH 82, and at MN 13/282. This joins a newly built interchange at CSAH 14. Scott County has enormous plans for CSAH 17; a principal arterial trunk highway (presumably traded with the state for  the current MN 13 and MN 282), for now an expressway with interchanges at major roads but possibly a full freeway someday.
  2. New interchanges on US 169 at Jordan and MN 41 which the state has been promising for years but never had the funding: a new overpass at Belle Plaine and a frontage road system between Shakopee and Jordan.
  3. New interchange on I-35 at CSAH 86 and capacity expansion to the interchange at CSAH 2.
  4. Intersection improvements on MN 13 at CSAH 21 and at CSAH 42
  5. Extending CSAH 8 west from MN 13 to US 169
  6. Frontage roads along MN 13 in the Savage area, and a new interchange at Chowen Ave (actually in Dakota County but congestion here is primarily a problem for Scott County).
  7. Unspecified capacity improvements to the Bloomington Ferry Bridge. Any meaningful congestion fix like a third span is out of the question with the level of funding, and so far the federal government hasn’t been keen about converting the shoulder to a travel lane and having substandard lane widths. I personally oppose this too, but will note that one possibility that might be suggested is a dynamic shoulder that would only be used for travel during a few hours in the peak direction, as was proposed for I-494 in the northwest suburbs.

Scott County projects: Red: New or improved interchange funded with local taxes, Yellow: Other projects funded with local taxes, Black: Recently built or improved interchanges in the area by Scott County and others.

It’s likely Dakota County sees all Scott County’s plans and is jealous. Getting badly needed highway safety and  expansion projects funded is a statewide problem, but uniquely the suburban counties have the ability to do something about it. Anoka County, like Scott, has also been very vocal about perceived anti-suburban bias on the Met Council in general and wanting US 10 fixed specifically; Anoka is now also thinking about pulling out. A couple of projects that I can think of that Dakota County wants are new interchanges on CSAH 63 (Argenta Trail) at I-494 and at MN 55, as well as additional lanes on roads in the general area, an “almost cloverleaf” on US 52 at CSAH 42 and a new interchange on I-35 at CSAH 50.

Ultimately, I do believe the Orange Line should be built and will be valuable to the region, but it’s now a fact Dakota County has left the CTIB and is not coming back. Whether you agree with their decision or not, it’s time to move forward and we need to act fast to make sure the Orange Line stays alive.

About Monte Castleman

Monte is a long time "roadgeek" who lives in Bloomington. He's interested in all aspects of roads and design, but particularly traffic signals, major bridges, and lighting. He works as an insurance adjuster, and likes to collect maps and traffic signals, travel, recreational bicycling, and visiting amusement parks.

31 thoughts on “Dakota County Leaves the CTIB: the Orange Line is in Jeopardy

  1. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

    “Getting badly needed highway safety and expansion projects funded is a statewide problem”
    In what way are such projects badly needed? In what way is it a problem? How is it a statewide problem, if it is a problem?

  2. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

    “Anoka County, like Scott, has also been very vocal about perceived anti-suburban bias on the Met Council in general and wanting US 10 fixed specifically; Anoka is now also thinking about pulling out.”

    I wonder why they perceive an anti-suburban bias. I guess the $10 million CTIB grant (transit dollars) to pay for a new freeway interchange (road capacity expansion) at Hwy 10 and Armstrong Blvd in Ramsey (a location where there was precisely zero transit benefit) couldn’t buy off their support?

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      Even though 4/5ths of the people in the region live in the suburbs there’s the perception that the Met Council is heavily skewed towards the desires of the minority (hence all the calls for a Council based on equal representation) I really do think they have an anti-car ideology, but I at least understand that there’s simply no money to pay for highway expansion the conventional way, something I don’t think other people, including suburban government officials, do. There’s been a series of articles in the StarTribune over the last decade or two about dissatisfaction from the local counties, particularly Scott and Ramsey, about the situation.

      They had to fight tooth and nail for years and then ultimately use creative funding just to get one interchange done (and a fence built for at Fairoak to try to prevent any more pedestrian fatalities there). There’s nothing to address the other interchanges or the congestion problem on MN 65. Meanwhile Dakota County is building up a storm, not only to fix congestion but to prevent it from occurring in the first place. So this is not enough to buy their support in the long term.

      1. Matty LangMatty Lang

        “I really do think they have an anti-car ideology”

        Can you elaborate on this? As far as I can tell we have more highway miles per capita than most metro areas and our highway congestion is well below average. How is working to build out a multi-modal regional transportation system that gives people choices an example of anti-car ideology?

        I think people have been listening to too much Center for the American Experiment propaganda when they say such things.

        1. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

          “If I can’t get everywhere I want to go, at all times of day, by driving my car at 65+ MPH, it MUST be the result of anti-car ideology! Social engineering!”

        2. Monte Castleman Post author

          Despite the opportunity cost, which isn’t that great since (except for the CTIB opt-outs) transit money generally can’t go to highways, spending money on the Orange line or other transit projects isn’t what I was thinking of, and note the whole point of the article is to advocate for getting the Orange Line done. It’s more the sense that a lot of people in the suburbs feel, that the Met council is trying to shove density down their throats and force them to ride bicycles to work. I’ve gotten that sense without admittedly done much research. If one person in the metro had one vote for Met Council seats that wouldn’t create a money tree but it would probably do a lot to stop the suburban residents and counties from complaining.

          1. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

            If one person in the metro had one vote for a Met Council rep, it would skew decidedly more pro-urban than it does today. You wouldn’t get people like Annette Meeks representing Minneapolis on the council.

            Right now, since the commissioners are appointed by a statewide officeholder (governor), the balance of power skews significantly towards outstate and exurban (non-METC county).

            1. Nick Minderman

              It might skew more urban, but I think it would also skew away from transit. A council that is not insulated from people who like their subsidies would not be able to make the difficult decisions. See MN legislature’s inability to pass any transportation system reform despite everyone agreeing that something should happen. There are better ways to approach it than turning it over to elections.

      2. Nick Minderman

        It’s not that there is no money to pay for expansion the conventional way. There is a gap in maintaining what we’ve already built.

        I don’t get how these collar counties think they can keep riding the wave of prosperity that Hennepin County generates without acknowledging that the bottlenecks that their residents complain about are in Hennepin County. If they want people to keep living there and having good jobs elsewhere, then we shouldn’t be spending the money in the places that aren’t congested.

        Scott County just got a TIGER grant for a “rural” interchange project with benefits that seem pretty dubious to me. I’m sure all thetfolks who can get to the traffic jam at the Bloomington Ferry Bridge 2 seconds faster will be thrilled.

        1. Monte Castleman Post author

          The delay is a lot more than 2 seconds. Like an average of 39 seconds even with today’s level of traffic, which is pretty significant when you multiply it by the vehicles that use it every day. Just because we can’t easily fix the congestion problem on the Ferry Bridge easily doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fix the congestion problem here where it’s easy. Besides, not everyone goes on to the Ferry Bridge. Quite a few of the people passing probably have destinations south of the river or else cross at Chaska.

          Even if you don’t count the costs of congestion, there’s the cost of the safety problems on the intersection specifically (in the top 200 most dangerous in the state), and US 169 in general. The highway carries too much traffic north of Belle Plaine to operate safely with crossroads.

          1. Nick Minderman

            I don’t disagree that safety is valuable. However, going straight to an interchange seems to ignore that other options exist and that there was a huge opportunity cost for all Minnesotans when that project was picked since TIGER grants are rarely awarded in multiples. The nearly 18 million in federal funds probably could have been much more impactful in other places across the metro (because face it, this is not a rural project) and the remaining 30 million in project funds probably could have built an alternative that is safer than what’s there now. Once again, we can’t maintain what we have now, why are we building more complex infrastructure (especially bridges) before looking at simpler alternatives?

            1. Monte Castleman Post author

              What cheaper options that would fix the safety problems with traffic signals and unsignalized crossroads on high speed, high volume rural expressways exist?

              1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

                J-turns, for starters. Similar to the RCI’s that’ll be built along 52 south of Coates. They can be signalized and coordinated, as NCDOT has demonstrated along routes comparable in stature and traffic levels to Olson Hwy.

  3. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

    At what point do we decide CTIB doesn’t provide value to the region, and that individual counties can do a better job of funding their priorities (even if I find Dakota and Scott’s priorities to be repulsive) on their own? Could CTIB be pared down to just Ramsey and Hennepin, so we could ditch the Lake Elmo Fields of Gold Line? Could we get the legislature to authorize some sort of new JPB/taxing authority for the core cities or the inside-the-beltway locations, rather than just counties?

    I also find it extremely surprising that counties like Dakota and Anoka were a part of CTIB for nearly a decade, when state law afforded them the right to control their own roadbuilding destiny rather than pay for regionally-coordinated transit schemes. That seems to go so far against the grain of the politic of those counties, and I must give credit to McLaughlin and others for keeping them in the fold for so long. That must have been no easy feat.

  4. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Once again I’ll harp the theme that we need to have Met Council commissioners elected directly from districts of equal population.

    Currently the appointed commissioners, theoretically only accountable to the Governor, mainly palaver with local and county officials, without significant scrutiny by the public. And this important level of government, essentially non-transparent and unaccountable, has significant power to levy taxes. How in blue blazes can we expect such a body to make responsible decisions in the interest of the entire region? Only, it seems to me, by making it accountable to the citizens.

    A responsible, accountable, and consequently more authoritative Met Council should help avert such situations as this CTIB conflict.

    1. Nick Minderman

      I’m personally afraid of what we’d get if the metropolitan council were not insulated from local politics because most voters in this region are accustomed to their highly subsidized single occupant vehicle lifestyle.

      Would we really be happier in the scenario when the majority of the representatives would cater to unsustainable parochial battles over parking, trumped-up claims of congestion, and hiding transportation costs in economic development decisions? Sounds like just another version of the legislature. Sure the people representing Minneapolis, St. Paul, and a couple of the more progressive suburbs might have some great ideas, but they’ll be steamrolled.

      The Met Council is obligated to plan for orderly development of the entire area and therefore I don’t think that divvying up the area through direct elections will meet that goal.

      I do agree with the idea that there be qualifications and a more transparent nomination prices, though. Some of the current council picks are a little fishy.

  5. Betsey BuckheitBetsey Buckheit

    Editor’s note: We received a comment regarding the statement “The CTIB allegedly retaliated by refusing to fill a $12 million gap from the failed bonding bill with CTIB funds; this puts the
    Orange Line in jeopardy as the bulk of the funding ($120 out of $150 million) is expected to come from the CTIB pot. Thus the entire project could be delayed or even dropped” saying:

    Actually the action may be to drop Orange Line from its funding plans, or “Program of
    Projects”. The project seeks both a $12.1M contribution from the state and a planned $45.21M comittment from CTIB. Both are needed in August to keep the project on track.

    CTIB was never to replace state funds. Planned project funds include $15M from the state, ~$15M from counties (HCRRA 12.8 and DCRRA 2.1), $45M from CTIB, and $75M of federal funds.

  6. Matty LangMatty Lang

    The Orange Line and Lake Street station are really the only thing that makes the general freeway expansion through the city palatable and was a big part of giving municipal consent. If the Orange Line is killed the I-35 expansion should be killed too.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      I understand your opinion about urban freeway expansion. The only problem is that

      1) The Orange Line improvements would benefit other buses too.
      2) Not rebuilding the bridges is not a realistic option. Rebuilding them and putting new concrete pavement in the same place which would not require municipal consent locks us out of building the Orange Line or the other bus improvements for the next 60 years until the bridges and pavement are ready to be replaced again.

  7. GlowBoy

    Relatively new to the Twin Cities, but I too am surprised a regionwide funding scheme that allowed counties to opt out lasted this long. I guess Dakota County stayed in only just long enough to get the Red Line built and upgraded? Seems to me regional transit requires a regional financial commitment. In Portland, TriMet is funded by a payroll tax levied on all employers in the metro area. There are only three counties involved (one is still strongly anti-transit, by the way) but there is no “opt out”.

    Seems to me the legislature is going to have to step in and fix this one way or another. Unfortunately they have (so far, barring a special session) failed to address upcoming transit projects, and Orange is further behind Blue in line.

    Assuming (as presently seems likely) lawmakers fail to fix this soon, Orange line is delayed and doesn’t get rolled into the proposed I-35W improvements. Unless the legislature votes to allow the whole I-35W job to wait a couple years, then the freeway project is going to have to go ahead with out it.

    So then Orange either doesn’t get done, or gets done later as a separate project, causing yet more pain for 35W commuters … many of whom are coming into Minneapolis from Dakota County.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      I simply don’t see a law allowing the project to be delayed happening. Can you imagine the attack ads at the next election? Black and white footage of the I-35W bridge collapsed with a dramatic voiceover: “Senator Gordon voted to allow a dangerous bridges to remain in place”.

    2. Tim

      The Orange Line, or at least the first stage of it, would provide little additional benefit to bus users from Burnsville that isn’t already provided by the buses from BTS. Just like the Red Line didn’t really provide anything that wasn’t already available from existing bus service along the Cedar/77 corridor. So Burnsville losing the Orange Line isn’t that much of a loss, really.

      1. Monte Castleman Post author

        Dakota county was kind of meh about Dan Patch, but I think they knew realistically there was no chance of it happening so why get excited about vaporware. Besides the opposition from Bloomington and Edina, as good as it looks on paper, the other problem is that particular line is a single track in terrible condition with a 10 mph speed limit. The only thing salvageable is the ROW. Northstar was dropped onto the main transcontinental line and only needed a few passing sidings built.

        The two lines that could probably be fitted for commuter rail without spending a gazillion dollars on them are Red Rock and the BNSF line to Wayzata and points west.

        1. Eric

          Cities supporting Dan Patch-Minneapolis, Savage, and Northfield

          Cities neutral to Dan Patch-Bloomington, Edina, and Burnsville

          Cities opposing Dan Patch-St. Louis Park and Lakeville

          The tracks between Minneapolis and Bloomington are in okay condition and allow for 10-20 miles per hour. Between Bloomington and Lakeville the tracks have been out-of-service for two decades. South of Lakeville to Northfield I believe it’s 10 miles per hour. But with the Dan Patch the right-of-way is already there and is lightly used by freight trains so why not take advantage of it? If Dakota County wants more transit besides buses the Dan Patch Line to Northfield and Union Pacific to Mankato are their best bets. With the 35W river bridge being replaced in 2020 it might be a good time to test out passenger rail service on the Dan Patch Line to a limited extent to ease some pressure off our roads.

            1. Eric Ecklund

              It’s not in terrible condition either as you described. Freight trains aren’t rocking back and forth on those tracks. All you have to do is some upgrades for commuter trains.

            2. Nathanael

              It’s not that much work to upgrade the speed limit on the tracks. You just send the Track-Laying Machine along it to replace the ties, basically; done in a week. There are some fiddly bits at the grade crossings.

              The problem is the “Dan Patch ban” written into state law by aggressively evil legislators from Lakeville and Edina, IIRC. This has to be removed.

              1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

                Replacing the ties only goes so far. There is also horizontal and vertical curvature and superelevation of curves to consider. At best, replacing the ties along the Dan Patch through Bloomington and Edina might get it to 25 MPH, but there are a lot of curves that would prevent higher passenger speeds.

  8. Nathanael

    Rail bias cannot be overcome. People prefer trains because they’re better, period, end of story.

    Now can we repeal the insane law against studying the Dan Patch Corridor? And then build it. I want to go to Northfield on a train. In my lifetime.

Comments are closed.