The devastation along Lake Street in Minneapolis that followed George Floyd's murder in 2020 has attracted millions of dollars of public and private money to rebuild the distinctive urban corridor.
But U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was in town Thursday to reinforce the role that public transit plays in the rebuilding. And he pointed to the federal government's $12 million grant to help Hennepin County upgrade the thoroughfare and prepare it for a new arterial bus rapid transit route called the B Line that will debut in 2024.
"So much of life and vibrancy of this corridor is the small business community," Buttigieg said, standing outside the Mercado Central marketplace on Lake Street.
"They went through so much here, first with the pandemic and then the civil unrest. If we can provide more frequent, more reliable and safe transit and pedestrian transportation, that's an investment in every business along this corridor."
The grant to Hennepin County is one of six totaling $99.4 million awarded to transportation projects in Minnesota, part of the $7.5 billion set aside in President Joe Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help modernize roads, bridges, public transit, rail and ports nationwide. The grants were largely awarded in areas of persistent poverty or in historically disadvantaged communities across the country.
The diverse neighborhoods along Lake Street have the highest percentage of transit dependency in Minnesota. One in five people traveling along the corridor are using public transportation, according to Metro Transit.
The heart of the community is served by the Route 21 bus, among Metro Transit's slowest routes. The $65 million B Line, part of the growing network of arterial bus-rapid transit lines in the Twin Cities, will largely replace the Route 21 with faster and more reliable service between Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood and Union Depot in downtown St. Paul.
Another transit investment planned for the Lake Street area includes the D Line arterial bus-rapid transit project, which will link Brooklyn Center to the Mall of America beginning later this year. And the Orange Line, a $150 million bus-rapid transit project between Minneapolis and Burnsville, began service late last year with a major stop at Lake Street and Interstate 35W.
"This is personal to me," said Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley, who grew up two blocks from Lake Street in the Phillips neighborhood and now represents part of the area on the County Board.
"This is a mobility justice issue, making sure people can move through their own communities in a way that is equitable," Conley added. "It's also the epicenter of so much pain and destruction" since Floyd's murder.
The grant will help construct turn lanes and bus-only lanes, facilitate the switch from four lanes to three, provide pedestrian upgrades compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and repave the roadway.
Buttigieg was surrounded by many seemingly star-struck elected and appointed officials as they toured Lake Street on one of Metro Transit's few electric buses.
While much of the devastation that occurred in 2020 along Lake Street has been cleared away, many vacant lots remain. They stand as grim reminders of the hundreds of businesses and structures that were damaged during the unrest, including the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct headquarters and two post office branches that burned to the ground.
Russ Adams, who manages corridor recovery initiatives for the Lake Street Council, said it will take at least $250 million to rebuild the Lake Street corridor. While funds from nonprofit organizations and private donors arrived relatively quickly, government help was slower, he said.
"We're already seeing sprouts of rebirth happen," said Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minneapolis' Public Works director. "It's such a huge boost to Hennepin County and the city to have [Buttigieg] come here and highlight the transformation."
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also noted the "symbolic benefit" to Buttigieg's visit. "The federal government believes in our city," Frey said. "They believe we will come back in a major way."
Ahmed Muhumud, whose Midtown Eye Care business burned during the unrest, greeted Buttigieg outside Mercado Central. "We appreciate him coming," said Muhumud, who relocated to the Midtown Global Market. "Hopefully, there will be more investment."
After the tour Buttigieg went to the Minnesota State Fair, where he was greeted by Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, Rep. Ilhan Omar and Gov. Tim Walz. But a spokesman for the state Republican Party dismissed Buttigieg's visit as "photo-ops."
"Inflation is crippling our economy, crime is out of control, and the Democrats just passed yet another massive tax-and-spend spree that will only make these problems worse," GOP spokesman Nick Majerus said.
Other Minnesota entities that received funding from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program include the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, $9.5 million to build the Big Woods Transit Facility in Nett Lake; Rochester, $19.9 million for a multi-span bridge on 6th Street; the Minnesota Department of Transportation, $18 millionto reconstruct Hwy. 197 near Bemidji; Plymouth, $15 millionto reconstruct a segment of Hwy. 55; and Duluth, $25 millionto reconstruct part of W. Superior Street in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.