House passes $7.3 billion transportation bill; Senate next as contractors wait

The Minnesota House passed a transportation budget Wednesday and sent the measure to the Senate as contractors await funding to avoid a work stoppage.

The $7.3 billion bill, which passed on a 112-21 vote, is speeding toward completion with no time to spare. Contractors must shut down their road projects by July 1, a process expected to start later this week for some. 

"Let’s ease the mind of these contractors of these contractors who are really concerned – really, really concerned – about us not passing this bill in a timely way," House Transportation chair Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said during Wednesday's floor debate. 

The Minnesota Department of Transportation said after the most recent government shutdown in 2011, it took four years to settle all contractor claims, costing the state $35 million.

"MnDOT remains optimistic that the Legislature will pass a transportation budget this week and no projects delays or shutdowns will be necessary," said Jake Loesch, a spokesman for the agency.

The agreement does not include a gas tax hike or fee increases. Democrats had sought increases but dropped them in negotiations because of Republican opposition.

The measure funds road and bridge projects across the state and has $57 million for two bus rapid transit lines in the Metro -- the E line between Minneapolis and Edina, and the F line to Blaine.

It includes a series of other items:

  • $13.3 million for state Capitol security, including additional state troopers
  • $7.2 million for Minnesota State Patrol body cameras for troopers on highways and at the Capitol
  • $7.5 million for school bus stop-arm cameras to catch drivers to speed by stopped buses
  • $10 million for a second daily Amtrak train between St. Paul and Chicago

What's not included

The bill orders a review of the Northstar commuter line after ridership plunged 96 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it does not end the service.

Republicans consider the Target Field-to-Big Lake line a boondoggle that should be shut down.

"How much money and time will we pour into that project that offers so little service to the citizens of Minnesota?" said state Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska.

Democrats, citing Metro Transit data, said it would cost $83 million to shut down the line because Minnesota must repay the federal government's contribution to the rail line. The study will analyze the future of commuter services.

Also not included are changes to Metro Transit fare enforcement, which have been debated for more than a year.

Democrats sought to eliminate the misdemeanor penalty and $180 fine for not paying the fare, replacing it with a $35 citation. Metro Transit wanted to hire ambassadors to ride trains, freeing police to handle more serious crimes, but the bill does not fund any additional staff.

Hornstein said he would renew the effort in the 2022 legislative session.

"We have to take the next step," Hornstein said. "We have to address the administrative citations and get more personnel on these trains to address a variety of issues passengers have."