by Jim Boyle
There’s momentum building to add a commuter rail station in Ramsey, but members of the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners are crying foul over the process.
Felix Schmiesing and Rachel Leonard question the transparency of ongoing efforts to assemble support and funding.
“There are efforts going on without all NCDA (Northstar Corridor Development Authority) members knowing about it,” Schmiesing said. “That’s a breach of trust.”
Leonard had an even harsher assessment. She said efforts in Anoka County seem to be leaving out a major partner in Sherburne County. She compared it to skirting around the open meeting law.
“Do we have any say?” Leonard said during Ed Byers’ update on the Northstar commuter rail line. “It seems we could cry foul.”
Byers is the director of Commuter Rail Operations and the maintenance facility. He told the Star News he was not caught off guard by the concerns of Sherburne County commissioners.
Bonnie Kollodge of the Metropolitan Council Public Affairs Officers however, bristled at the notion of anything underhanded taking place.
“The possibility of a Ramsey station has been discussed in many public settings for an extended period of time with Sherburne County representatives in attendance,” she stated in an e-mail to the Star News. “I believe as recently as March 24, the issue was part of a Northstar meeting that Mn/DOT hosted, which representatives of Sherburne County attended.”
She also noted that no solid plan has been assembled to cover the capital costs needed to build a station.
It’s a work in progress with lots of support lining up.
Sherburne County commissioners would like to see a greater flow of information about the efforts being made and a chance to have their concerns answered. They range from transparency and ridership questions.
Anoka County Commisssioner Matt Look, who was elected chair of the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority in January, said his vision is to get the Ramsey station built on the Northstar line in a Jan. 14 ABC Newspapers report.
He said he wants to see access to the train improved as well as ridership, which has been hampered by the economy.
He also said a Foley station could be on the horizon, too.
“I hope the people making this decision are dilligent about ridership,” said Schmiesing, who noted that the Fridley station has significantly under-performed.
Ramsey officials point to their ridership numbers for the Ramsey Star Express as a sign a station in their city would do well for the line.
A Ramsey rail station is projected to cost between $13 and $14 million.
There’s $4 million in Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding bill.
The County Transit Improvement Board, a Joint Powers Board established in March 2008 which is responsible for granting the funds from a dedicated transit tax, could contribute about $3 million if the project falls into place.
The Met Council, Anoka County and Ramsey are all considering an about $1 million contribution.
That leaves the shovel-ready project about $3 million shy of what it needs to build, according to Jill Brown, a spokesperson on the Northstar line for Anoka County.
There are no federal funds earmarked for this purpose but officials are lobbying Congress for funding.