The $1.35 billion bill for public construction projects before the Minnesota Legislature contains historic funding for arterial bus rapid transit in the Twin Cities, lines that pass through areas heavily impacted by the arson and vandalism that followed the killing of George Floyd.
A grant of $55 million to the Met Council would complete funding for both the D Line and the B Line. The D Line would run from the Brooklyn Center Transit Center through north Minneapolis and Downtown Minneapolis and on to the Mall of America via Chicago and Portland avenues. Construction could begin next year. The B Line would run from the western edge of West Lake Street to Union Depot in St. Paul, mostly along Lake Street and Marshall Avenue. Construction would begin in 2022.
The two lines intersect at Chicago Avenue and Lake Street. Project funding for the $75 million D Line and the $65 million B Line is a combination of federal, state and Met Council money.
The pending bonding bill also provides money for the preliminary design and engineering of the E Line, which would run from the University of Minnesota to Southdale Transit Center via University Avenue, Hennepin Avenue and France Avenue. That project would still need around $20 million from the state to complete its funding package.
The three lines would intersect with the Twin Cities’ two existing arterial BRT lines and with the metro’s two light rail routes. They would also connect with Southwest light rail line, the expansion of the Green Line from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie now under construction.
Bus rapid transit is an enhanced mode of transit, with fewer stops, special buses with boarding from all doors, station ticketing, curb bump outs to avoid merging in and out of traffic lanes and some signal priority. A study released Friday asserts that one in eight Metro Transit riders would use the new line and could collectively save one million hours of riding time per year.
The $55 million for BRT the bonding package is what Gov. Tim Walz had requested in January for expansion of the system, and the bill has the support of House DFL and Senate GOP leadership. But because it authorizes the sale of long-term debt, the bonding bill requires a 60 percent majority in order to pass, and House DFL leaders are still searching for votes among House Republicans. The bill also has become linked to a grand bargain at the Legislature involving a tax cut measure.
Rep. Frank Hornstein, a DFLer from Minneapolis who is chair of the House Transportation Finance and Policy subcommittee, had been pushing for the B and D Lines, but had been hoping for a $75 million appropriation to also fund the E Line. All would service to some of the region’s most transit dependent neighborhoods, which are also those damaged most severely following Floyd’s killing.
“The B Line was always really important for transit equity,” he said. “Now I think it’s critical and urgent for the rebuilding of Minneapolis and St. Paul given that it is on Lake Street, and the Marshall area is not far from University and some of the impacted areas of St. Paul.”
But Hornstein said the D Line is also important from transit equity and racial justice standpoints. “This is going through the heart of areas impacted by economic problems, challenges as well as areas that were hard hit by civil unrest — Lake and Chicago,” he said. The line would also pass the George Floyd memorial site.
Hornstein called the funding historic. “It is the first time I can recall that full state funding for more than one transitway simultaneously will be passed in a bonding bill,” Hornstein said Friday.
House Republicans continue to try to negotiate with DFL leaders on the bonding bill, tying their support to Walz moving on his use of emergency powers declared to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
GOP transportation leaders, however, have been more supportive of bus rapid transit than they have of light rail.
In response to a letter composed by Met Council staff about inequities and social justice in the agency, Chair Charlie Zelle said the BRT investments are central to Metro Transit’s work. The routes serve high-ridership areas and could also spur economic investment along the way.
“We know one of our best investments is in bus rapid transit lines like the proposed METRO D Line and B Line in Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as other prioritized corridors throughout the region,” Zelle wrote. “Investments like bus rapid transit supports better transit in communities reliant on transit, but also fosters economic benefits.”