Monday, April 25, 2011

Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) - Part II

I wrote a blog last week about the political (and therefore functional) deficiencies of the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB). This blog is intended to provide more concrete information about its expenditure formula and was to alleviate the political issues that were discussed in the first blog.

As a refresher from last week (of if you didn’t read the first blog!), CTIB was created through MN State statute in 2008 and is made up of five counties in the Twin Cities; Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Washington. The main goal of CTIB is to collect a sales tax and put that towards transit improvements in the Twin Cities. The sales tax is a quarter of a percent and has been generating about $85,000,000 annually.

The main source of funding for this revenue is through grants. A CTIB committee, made up of member counties and local elected officials, reviews grant applications from each member county and selects the most deserving projects. Generally the projects funded can be capital improvements for transitways or park-and-ride facilities, feasibility studies, right-of-way acquisition, or operating assistance. The eligible transitways can be seen in the map above. The entire list of funding requirements is listed in an online grant application. All member counties are guaranteed to receive at least one percent of the total annual revenue.

The formula seems simple: very small sales tax applied over a large area plus expert and engaged officials making funding decisions equals a great transit system! But as it was discussed last week, that is not the case. There are multiple political issues that get in the way, namely the dysfunctional and untrusting relationship between the Met Council and CTIB and the inability for county commissioners to support regional transit priorities over their own county’s priorities.

These (and other) political ills need to be lessened in order for CTIB to become more successful. The first step should be to get Met Council and CTIB on the same page. As of now, they support different modes of transit and different transitways. Once their priorities are aligned, the two major transit supporters, funders, and operators in the Twin Cities can have a united front for regional transit.

The second, and largest solution, is for CTIB and the Met council to create timed priorities. As of now, multiple projects receive funding each year but there is no regional plan for determining what project(s) will be built next. Even though there is a common revenue stream for transit, there is no overall plan for what comes next. Each county is still fighting on its own to get transit fully funded and through the complicated federal system. These two solutions may not be possible but they are simple solutions to create a more effective transit system in the Twin Cities.

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