2024 State of the Region Remarks from Chair Zelle

Text of the speech as prepared for delivery by Chair Charlie Zelle for the 2024 State of the Region.

Good morning, everyone!

On behalf of Metropolitan Council members and staff, we’re honored you’ve joined us today to celebrate this dynamic region that I know is so important to all of us. We’re delighted to be together in person to learn about the state of our region after a several-year hiatus. I would like to thank Mayor Hanlon for his warm welcome. Mayor, you, the city council, and staff are wonderful partners and we are so pleased to be in this great community today.

Before we begin, I’d like to introduce Governor Walz, who has a message for all of us.

Take moment and imagine…

Imagine a region where everyone has a home to go to… that is affordable, safe, and secure.

A water system that provides clean and abundant water. Remember: Minnesota is known for its watershed, whether it’s our lakes or the mighty Mississippi. Water is sacred and critical for life.

Imagine a park system where families can explore, kids can run and play, and people of all ages and abilities can join together as one community.

Imagine a transit system that allows you to not be dependent on a car, with easy and close access, allowing you to get to your destinations quickly and effectively. Who knows, maybe meeting new friends along the way.

Imagine living in a community where everyone feels heard and supported, but most of all, valued for what they bring for the greater good of the entire state. Everyone brings value to a community, no matter who they are or where they came from.

Imagine, a region that is the envy of the nation for its ability to come together as individuals, partnering for all, tackling challenges that many cities across the nation cannot achieve. We have multi-sector resources and commitment to realize these dreams.

For this region, it’s no longer an aspiration — it’s becoming a plan.

With a population of more than three million, the 7-county region comprised of more than 181 cities and townships is home to more than 300 languages!

With more than 1,000 lakes and more than 56,000 acres of regional parks and trails open for public use, there are places to roam and explore — even in the heart of many cities.

Believe it or not, while we are considered a metropolitan region, more than half our region is still considered farmland — but that is changing. Most of the growth we are experiencing is through immigration and in many ways fueling the economy and changing the face of Minnesota.

We must adapt with it. This is why the Met Council exists — to help manage the growth in this region in a way that is collaborative and methodical because no one community can do this alone.

It’s hard work. But I know everyone in this room is up for the challenge.

We can’t just imagine, we have to “do.”

You heard the Governor talk about his One Minnesota plan.

Now it’s our turn to show you how the work we are doing is connected to that vision.

It’s called “Imagine 2050.” Our next regional development guide, which happens every 10 years, is being developed as we speak to create and sustain a prosperous, equitable and resilient region with abundant opportunities for all to live, work, and thrive.

This regional development guide will lay out the region’s values and vision for 2050 and the goals needed to achieve it, given the region’s existing conditions and emerging trends.

How do we do this? By leading this work following a set of guiding principles.


Our region is economically and culturally vibrant. However, we also recognize the disparities and injustices that are fueled by racism.

We are dedicated to creating systems, policies, and programs that repair and heal past harm, and foster an equitable future.


We value those, like all of you in this room, who inspire and motivate others for positive change. Our region is known for its civic engagement, where leaders in business, foundations, advocacy, and government are at the table motivated by more than their own bottom line. We need that broad and inclusive leadership to help confront the significant challenges we face around equity, climate change, safety, and other pressing issues.


At the Met Council, we know we must be effective in our work and achieve measurable outcomes. While our region is known for its research, initiatives, and collaborations, we must be open to criticism and clearly understand when we are not achieving results.

We recognize we can maximize our effectiveness by being in partnership with others. We must also be transparent and flexible so we can change course when needed.


We value our region’s resources, which include natural, human, economic, and infrastructure. These resources may be vulnerable over time to shifting conditions, including climate change.

We must design our systems, no matter how complicated, and allocate resources in ways that are sustainable and support the needs of future generations.

The work we do — in collaboration with each and every one of you in this room — is profound.

Simply put, it’s about working together to achieve common ground and common goals.

Together, we represent and strive to support the hopes, dreams, hard work and, ultimately, the success of the residents, businesses, and others served by nearly 190 local entities.

That said, we all know working together on hard, complex issues sometimes comes with tensions, divided opinions on how things should be done. That’s not unusual in collaborative relationships. In fact, I think it’s necessary when building and sustaining healthy communities.

As we Imagine 2050, our efforts will focus on the areas where we can make the most change.


Some of the questions we are asking ourselves and others as we develop the 2050 regional guide include: Are existing transportation conditions equitable and inclusive? What emerging transportation conditions impact our ability to meet the goal of an equitable and inclusive region?

About half a million more people will be living, working, and moving around the Twin Cities region by 2040. They’re going to need options. We’re going to need a transportation system with choices and more mobility and affordability.

Our transportation system needs to work for everyone, connecting people to jobs, school, appointments, everyday needs, and social occasions. The Met Council brings together counties, cities, and townships to address these needs and create a shared vision for our transportation system.

Planning for our investments in transit come from data and our customers’ feedback. With this information we are able to provide an interconnected regional transit system through a variety of different modes. This is happening during a time when the very nature of travel is changing.

In 2022 alone, the Transportation Advisory Board granted federal funding to 91 projects across the region, allocating $350 million to 55 cities and all 7 metro counties. These are investments in roads, bridges, transit, as well as regional and local trails.

Let’s face it, building large transportation infrastructure projects take foresight, commitment, and courage.

That’s because they’re hard to build, they’re noisy and disruptive, but most of all, they are transformative.

Good transit infrastructure projects create significant economic stimulus compared to other forms of spending. In addition to the positive economic impact of high frequency transit, transit also supports a healthier environment and allows the region to grow thoughtfully along these lines. Given our shared commitment to anti-displacement, this growth must support local residents and businesses.

We know between 2009 and 2022, there were more than $44 billion worth of development permits issued. Of the $44 billion, $16 billion have been permitted near light rail, bus rapid transit, or high frequency bus routes.

All told, the value of development within transit corridors represents 36 percent of the development that has been permitted in the region as a whole. And here’s the kicker, it’s all happening on just 3.2 percent of the region’s land area!

Another wonderful outcome of our transit investments is the building of life-cycle housing. More than 53,000 multifamily units have been permitted near high frequency transit. Let me say that again, 53,000 multifamily units. This represents 40 percent of multifamily units in the region. Why is this important? Because we know many of our neighbors are burdened by the rising costs of housing and transportation. This attempts to reduce the cost for both and make our communities more affordable and welcoming for all kinds of people and families.

This would not have happened had it not been for investing in infrastructure.

It’s important to acknowledge the tremendous complexity of building the largest public works project in the history of Minnesota. When challenges arise, we must acknowledge and respond with authenticity and sincerity. I’m proud to say that the Green Line Extension is on solid ground. With more than 80 percent of civil construction completed, the project is fully funded and is slated to open in 2027.

Other projects like the Gold Line, Purple Line, and Blue Line Extension will also make our region more sustainable and connected. We strongly believe the long-term benefits of the Green Line Extension to the region and state outweigh the short-term challenges it has faced.

At the end of the day, the challenges are worth it because we are building a transportation vision for an entire region. As commuter and workplace patterns change, it’s vital this remains a link for people to get where they need to go.

Transit runs in public spaces, and public issues show up on our doorstep. To address this complex issue, the Met Council endorsed the Safety and Security Action Plan in June 2022, and our Chief, Ernest Morales III, started one year ago. He’s riding the train and buses, talking to riders, and leading his department of police officers and Community Service Officers to address the issues that lead our riders to report feeling unsafe.

In addition to the presence provided by the Metro Transit police department, we launched the Transit Rider Investment Program in February. We’re already hearing positive feedback from customers and seeing movement in the right direction.

Reported crimes fell 25 percent from the first to the last quarter of 2023. Serious crimes including homicide, sex offenses, robbery, and assault dropped 13 percent, while officer-initiated calls rose 23 percent in that same time — a result of proactive policing.

Customer complaints related to public safety on light rail decreased by 44 percent in 2023. We introduced the administrative citations program for fare non-payment, resulting in almost 21,000 fare inspections and more than 1,100 citations so far since its launch in December 2023.

Finally, ridership has grown to nearly 45 million total rides in 2023 and we’re off to great start in 2024.

While we like these positive trends, this work will never end. Our system is far safer than it was one year ago, and I’m confident it will be safer next year. That’s because providing a welcoming and safe experience on transit is our highest priority. We know from listening to our riders and staff that having a strong, official presence on transit is one of the best things we can do to achieve that goal.


As we move into regional housing, we are asking if existing housing conditions currently are equitable and inclusive.

Residents in our region need homes they can afford and it’s no secret the housing market is less affordable than a decade ago. That’s why the Met Council recognizes an “all of the above” approach. Build more homes through the Livable Communities Program and partnerships with Minnesota Housing. Utilize federal funding to build more rent-controlled homes. And support housing choice through our distribution of housing choice vouchers and single-family programs and our new affordable homeownership program.

Just last month the Met Council awarded funding to housing projects in four of seven counties in the region through the Livable Communities Grant program. The housing developments include supportive services, and often includes partnerships between communities and nonprofit organizations. This expands affordable housing choices for households earning 50 percent of area median income or less.

We also award funds that support affordable rental and ownership housing opportunities. We kicked off the year with $5.3 million to fund new construction and preserve existing homes. These funds went to eight city applicants: Brooklyn Center, Carver, Edina, Golden Valley, Maplewood, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, and Saint Paul.

This shows our housing investments are truly regional. We make investments in communities across the region, whether they are revitalizing older parts of the region, developing new city centers in suburban areas, and everywhere in between.


As we plan for our regional park system, we are asking if regional parks are currently equitable and inclusive.

One of our region’s great assets is our open space. Wild as well as developed park spaces serve as destinations for millions of residents and visitors. But our data clearly shows there are disparities as to who visits and who can physically access our treasured green spaces. As a region, we’re investing in facilities and programs to ensure we are meeting the needs of all residents, and I do mean all residents.

Here, too, we see collaboration to achieve objectives. At Cedar Lake Farm Regional Park in Scott County, people who already enjoy fishing and camping can now anticipate fun new experiences thanks to two upgrade projects performed in partnership between the county and outside organizations.

In line with our commitment to recognize and honor parks on the lands of native peoples, the Met Council partnered with regional parks to provide artwork and signage in indigenous languages.

When Mother Nature wouldn’t partner with winter lovers this year, we joined forces with Ramsey County to ensure there was snow for the high school Nordic State Ski Championship this year at Battle Creek.

While we’re proud of this high school championship, big congratulations are in order for many partners including the Loppet Foundation and Theodore Wirth Park, which went to almost miraculous lengths to bring the first international World Cup competition to the USA in 20 years. It was an amazing tribute to this region featuring our own Minnesota Olympic medalist skier Jessie Diggins!


Finally, water. The very element that sets Minnesota apart from others. Are we protecting and preserving our most basic natural and wonderful resource?

On its surface, some may think wastewater is probably the least exciting part of the Met Council’s role in driving collaboration for our region’s future prosperity. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Thanks to tough water system planning decisions made in the past with broad collaboration, our region is benefitting not only from thoughtful growth, but in ways we couldn’t have predicted. When it comes to water, we are ahead of the curve and viewed as a national role model.

The planning around wastewater treatment, water supply, and surface water quality represents our broadest area of partnership and collaboration. We work with state and federal agencies, local and county governments, watershed management organizations, interest groups, and the public to protect the region’s water resources as the region continues to grow. While municipalities run their own water supply systems, the Met Council’s planning and data resources inform its efforts.

And if there was a small bright spot to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the opportunity to help people appreciate the value our region’s wastewater treatment system provides. Our wastewater lab was able to track and share data on COVID rates, which was helpful to public health officials and a model for other regions. We continue to collect and test wastewater samples for even more health-related data markers in collaboration with the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health.


At the end of the day, the work we do may not seem very glamorous. It’s complex, and necessary, and the Met Council was formed for these very reasons. A community of collaboration setting out to find solutions — together — to make this metro area the best it can be. No one community can do it alone.

When it comes to providing affordable housing to this region, we couldn’t succeed without the partnership of our counties. Thank you to all the commissioners who are here today.

This year our regional parks and trails system turns 50. We want to thank the legislature who created the regional parks system in 1974 and our regional park partners who own and operate the system. Together, we have been able to develop this world-class system that contributes so much to our region's high quality of life for all our residents.

We now have long-term funding to ensure we build and maintain a transit system that will serve generations to come. Thank you to all the lawmakers, transit advocates, trades, environmental groups, and the others who worked so hard for increased investment in transit last year.

As the Governor says, your voice matters. I’m committed to partnering with all of you to create a region that truly is the envy of the nation. We have the resources, but most of all, we have people like you who truly believe Minnesota is a great state.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for being our partners, but most of all, thank you for your commitment to this outstanding region.