A new coalition at the State Capitol is pushing for more money for public transit — an issue that has divided the Legislature in recent years.
But with a newly elected DFL majority in the House and a Democratic governor, advocates are hopeful they can overhaul the conversation about transit. The coalition calls itself Keep MN Moving and is led by the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and East Metro Strong, a public-private partnership supporting transit.
“We want to end the us-vs.-them discussion that’s been occurring and bring Minnesotans together around transit plans,” Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis chamber, said at a news conference Tuesday.
The group is backing bus service in a big way, a mode that seems more palatable politically than light rail — although it supports trains, too. And the group insists it will back transit funding throughout the state, not just the metro area.
Where that revenue might come from — existing coffers or new sources, or both — is unclear.
When asked whether they favor an increase in the state’s gas tax — favored by incoming Gov. Tim Walz — coalition members said they have no formal stance on the issue. Weinhagen also noted gas tax revenue is constitutionally dedicated to roads and bridges.
The group supports funding the build-out of arterial bus-rapid transit in the Twin Cities. The first of these rapid buses, the A Line, connects Rosedale mall with the Blue Line light rail’s 46th Street station. Since service began in 2016, ridership on the $27 million A Line has surged by more than 30 percent.
Rapid bus service mimics light rail — passengers pay before they board and buses arrive at enhanced stations every 10 minutes during peak hours. However, the buses operate in traffic and are vulnerable to congestion and road construction, although they have signal priority to speed up trips.
Metro Transit is planning four more rapid bus projects, including the D Line, which will connect the Mall of America in Bloomington to Brooklyn Center along the busiest local bus route in the state. Backers of the D Line say they need $35 million in state money to finish the project but fell short at the Legislature earlier this year.
“I am very optimistic that we’ll make progress this session,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, and the new chairman of the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.
Hornstein said he also supports extending Northstar Commuter Rail to St. Cloud, the Northern Lights Express train connecting Minneapolis to Duluth, a second Amtrak train between St. Paul and Chicago and the addition of electric buses to the Metro Transit fleet.