What’s in Minnesota’s $7 billion transportation bill?

By: - June 23, 2021 11:10 am

Transit riders disembark from a Green Line train in Saint Paul to connect with a shuttle during track work. Henry Pan/Minnesota Reformer.

Legislative leaders and the administration of Gov. Tim Walz came to an agreement on a $7 billion transportation bill that will fund transportation projects and decide transportation policy across the state over the next two years.

The bill is a compromise between the Republican-controlled Senate, which favors directing most transportation dollars to roads and bridges, and the DFL-controlled House, which sought more money for transit, electric vehicles and other transportation options.

Some of these initiatives — funding track improvements for a second Amtrak train from the Twin Cities to Chicago — have been in the works for years. Other initiatives promise to make it safer for everyone to get around, such as the first-ever allocation to a special program for pedestrian and bicycle safety.

A high-profile provision not in the bill but expected to appear in other legislation is $6 million to begin planning a Rondo land bridge, which would cover I-94 through the traditionally Black neighborhood of St. Paul that was cleaved in two by the construction of the highway beginning in the late 1950s.  

Still, other long-debated initiatives failed to make the cut. A provision to allow the Metropolitan Council to issue administrative — in addition to criminal — citations for people not paying transit fare was excluded, as was another to allow undocumented immigrants access to drivers’ licenses. Both initiatives had bipartisan House support, but the Senate ultimately rejected them. 

Of the $7 billion budgeted, only $220 million will actually come from the general fund. Most of the funding — $4.4 billion in all — will come from the Trunk Highway fund, which primarily funds highway construction and is mostly funded by the Federal Highway Administration, but also by state taxes on gas, vehicle sales and license plate renewals. 

The bill will hit the House floor Wednesday. Here’s some highlights on how the bill will address driving, transit, walking, biking and rail issues: 

Driving

License plate renewal fees will go up starting Aug. 1. Currently $5.25 for a single license plate and $7 for double license plates, they will cost $13.50 and $15.50 to renew, respectively. Motorcycle license endorsement fees will also go up. 

The bill would allow drivers who are alone to use toll and carpool lanes on certain federal holidays, pending federal approval. 

The Corridors of Commerce program — a state initiative to widen freeways across the state to improve road safety and economic vitality — will receive $200 million in bonds and $50 million in general funds.

Local entities statewide will receive money to fix roads, with townships receiving $12 million, and small cities receiving $18 million. The omnibus bill will also allocate $19.5 million in general fund money to fix local roads and bridges

April 5, 2021-Claremont: A grader is parked on the future U.S. Highway 14. U.S. Highway 14, which is being rerouted and expanded to two lanes in each direction, will open to traffic later in 2021. Henry Pan/Minnesota Reformer.

Regional planning organizations outside of the Twin Cities can get money to study critical transportation issues. 

Finally, people who find themselves in crashes that result in an injury, death or over $1,000 in property damage will no longer have to complete a report detailing what happened. 

House efforts to allow drivers licenses for undocumented people, reduce vehicle miles traveled by 20% by 2050, as well as to require prioritizing hiring Native Americans for highway work within 60 miles of a reservation, were rejected by the Senate. A House and Walz proposal to fund the installation of electric vehicle chargers throughout the state also did not make the final bill due to Senate objections. 

Transit

Metro Mobility, which is a mandated program to help people with disabilities and the elderly get around, has struggled for years with uncertain funding despite consistent ridership growth due to an aging population. The program will get more secure funding via forecasted ridership and maintenance beginning in July 2025. Metro Mobility will also lose some state funds, but the balance will be made up with federal dollars. 

The Metropolitan Council will receive $57.5 million to build out its arterial bus rapid transit network, which will mimic the A Line on Snelling Avenue in Saint Paul, and the C Line on Penn Avenue in North Minneapolis. This fully funds the E Line, which will serve the University of Minnesota, Marcy-Holmes, Downtown, Uptown and Southdale, replacing the France and University Avenue branches of Route 6. This also mostly funds the F Line, which will serve Central Avenue in Minneapolis and University Avenue in Anoka County and replace Route 10U. The Met Council will also be allowed to draw funding from a city of Minneapolis property tax previously earmarked to fund a streetcar line on Central and Nicollet Avenues to build out its rapid bus network. 

The Met Council will also receive $250,000 each for two studies: transitioning its fleet to zero emissions (which could include battery electric buses); and an express route from Medina in western Hennepin County to Minneapolis on Highway 55. 

Twin Cities transit agencies will also have to compile a report to the Legislature by next February about how they spent federal COVID-19 funds. MnDOT will also have to study how COVID-19 has affected transit in the Twin Cities and report its findings to the Legislature in February 2023.

In addition to neglecting to reform transit fare enforcement, other key omissions include a 0.5% Metro area sales tax, as well as a gas tax indexed to inflation, to provide transit with a more reliable stream of funding. The Senate rejected the proposals, making good on their promise to not increase taxes. 

A proposal to give some MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance recipients free monthly transit passes will be included as part of the human services budget bill. 

Biking and walking

The state’s active transportation account and Safe Routes To Schools initiative will both receive $5 million; both seek to make walking and biking safer. Another $15 million will go to a compromise measure to install cameras on stop sign arms on school buses, hopefully averting incidents similar to an Edina hit-and-run incident last year

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will also be allowed to restrict speed limits on its parkways to 20 miles per hour, joining the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, which did so last year to reduce speeding. Cities will face a new mandate as they design bike lanes, which will now have to accommodate parking spots for the mobility-impaired.

Rail

The bill allocates $10 million to construct improvements in Winona and La Crescent to allow Amtrak to operate a second train from Saint Paul to Chicago. Service could begin as early as 2024. MnDOT will also be required to update a state rail plan to prioritize passenger rail two years after the state transportation plan is updated, as well as develop a process to select and award money for projects, which include railroad grade-separation and improving passenger and freight rail service.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Henry Pan
Henry Pan

Henry Pan (pronouns: They/He/佢/他) is a Twin Cities-based journalist, cartographer and photographer passionate about human interests and all things transportation. They have a background in urban planning, a disdain for Minnesota Nice, and a penchant for solitude, transit and bicycle joyrides.

MORE FROM AUTHOR