The 2021 session of the Minnesota Legislature yielded important gains for transit, as well as funding for regional parks and water planning in the seven-county metro area.
Legislators continued base-level General Fund appropriations for Metro Mobility and transit operations, and they approved establishing Metro Mobility as a forecasted program in the state budget beginning July 1, 2025. This means that future state budget forecasts will incorporate an obligation from the state budget General Fund for the costs of the service. Metro Mobility is transportation for certified riders with disabilities.
The Legislature also made a one-time $57.5 million appropriation for arterial bus rapid transit projects. This funding will advance the METRO E Line on Hennepin and France avenues, and the METRO F Line, which will serve the Central Avenue corridor. Bus rapid transit offers a faster trip and more amenities than regular local bus service.
Law requires zero-emission transit vehicle transition plan
Other transportation-related provisions in the omnibus transportation bill:
- $250,000 one-time appropriation for an analysis of transit improvements in the Hwy. 55 corridor. This appropriation requires matching nonstate funds.
- Authorization for the Met Council to issue regional transit capital bonds in 2021 ($48.4 million) and 2022 ($50 million). Regional transit capital bonds are used to finance capital needs, such as fleet replacement.
- The Met Council must develop and maintain a zero-emission transit vehicle transition plan.
- The Center for Transportation Studies will undertake a study on transit post-COVID-19 pandemic. The study will specifically review the Northstar Line and commuter-oriented transit service.
Legislature increases funding for regional parks operations
The legislature appropriated nearly $43.9 million from the Parks and Trails Fund in the Clean Water, Land and Legacy bill for regional parks in the metro area for the current biennium, which runs through June 30, 2023. This represents an 8% increase from the previous biennium. Metro regional parks get 40% of the total Parks and Trails Fund proceeds, with 40% going to the Department of Natural Resources for state parks, and 20% to other parks and trails in greater Minnesota.
The omnibus environment and natural resources bill included nearly $10 million each year for regional parks operations and maintenance, an increase of $850,000 over previous funding levels. The bill also included funding for regional parks land acquisition from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, providing $1 million in 2021 and $2.25 million in 2022.
Sustainable regional water supply gets support
The Legacy bill included two appropriations to the Met Council from the Clean Water Fund. The Water Supply Sustainability Support program will receive $919,000 each year to support projects that address emerging drinking water supply threats. The bill also authorized $625,000 each year for the Met Council’s Water Demand Reduction Grant program, which provides grants for water conservation initiatives by municipalities in the metro area. This is an increase of $250,000 each year over the previous appropriation for this program.