McCollum ‘excited’ about adding county to district

Veteran congresswoman discusses variety of issues with county commissioners

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, left, makes a point Tuesday as Washington County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dennis Hegberg looks on. McCollum visited with commissioner’s and county officials for about 30 minutes about issues of “mutual concern.” McCollum’s Fourth Congressional District now includes the central part of Washington County along with most of Ramsey County.

One year ago, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum was a vocal critic of a bill in Congress allowing construction of the new St. Croix River Crossing bridge.

But that stance was forgiven Tuesday when McCollum sat down for a congenial 30-minute meeting with the Washington County Board of Commissioners two weeks after McCollum was re-elected to her seventh term.

Although McCollum admitted that she and commissioners differed on the St. Croix bridge bill, she said it was time for everyone to move on to other issues of county interest since bridge-related construction has started.

Among the topics McCollum discussed with commissioners were the Gateway Corridor, Minnesota Highway 36 improvements, talks in Washington, D.C., to avert the “fiscal cliff” and helping Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans return to civilian life.

With redistricting putting central Washington County in McCollum’s district that already includes most of Ramsey County, the veteran lawmaker told commissioners it puts the county in a good position for getting things done at the federal level.

“”This is much easier maneuvering for things to happen,” she said.

Two issues in which the county would look for federal help are the Gateway Corridor and Minnesota 36 improvements. Commissioners Dennis Hegberg and Lisa Weik both mentioned McCollum’s support of the corridor idea.

The Gateway Corridor is a proposed rapid transit line from the Twin Cities east into western Wisconsin along the Interstate 94 corridor.

McCollum said if the Gateway Corridor project is done, it has to be practical about the number of riders, future projections and cost of adding buses.

“If we’re going to do bus rapid transit, it has to be the real deal,” she said. “We have to look at what’s good today and what’s economical in the future. Part of leadership is leading into the future.”

McCollum said that transportation future will be affected by the new St. Croix River bridge, especially for communities along Minnesota 36. She said one reason she opposed the St. Croix bridge bill is that the state Department of Transportation was not saying they had all the money in line for the project.

She reminded commissioners how long it took North St. Paul to get the Margaret Street overpass at Minnesota 36.

“It took North St. Paul 40 years to get an above-grade crossing at Margaret Street. Forty years,” she said. “How does it (the bridge) affect Gateway and other projects in the queue. It has affected what has been our (North St. Paul) downtown. Many questions were raised with no answers to them. I don’t want dollars siphoned off 36 when we have other needs.”

McCollum also said she believes a deal will get done to avoid the looming fiscal cliff of tax increases and budget cuts because business owners are telling lawmakers that they want a plan and “certainty.”

“I think we’re moving forward on that,” she said, adding that she is not sure if the current Congress or the new Congress convening in January will vote on any fiscal cliff measure.

But McCollum warned that cuts will occur no matter what measure passes Congress.

“You will see some cuts that won’t be good for the county, won’t be good for cities, won’t be good for schools,” she said. “We have to take some bitter medicine to get well.”

But McCollum stressed that she and her staff are ready to work with commissioners and county officials now and when the new Congress convenes in about six weeks.

“Our staffs will get to know each other really well,” she said. “I’m excited about this district.”