Minnesota State Fair: Public transportation, parking plan sought by lawmakers

Did you have trouble getting to the Minnesota State Fair last summer? What about finding a parking spot?

After hearing headaches mount from Minnesotans trying to get through the doors of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, lawmakers this legislative session are considering the potential of creating a plan to ease congestion for the event that draws more than a million people each summer.

Authored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), the proposal is a direct response to complaints surrounding "gridlock traffic" at the State Fair the last two years.

"Last year was an especially challenging fair if anyone tried to get there during peak times – it was a snarl of transportation challenges," said Rep. Hansen before the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee. "At that time, a number of us heard from our constituents that something needed to be done."

The bill would send a so far unspecified amount of money to the Metropolitan Council to develop and implement a "multimodal transportation plan" for the 2024 Minnesota State Fair.

The plan would seek to address a list of concerns, including reducing motor vehicle congestion and parking, improving attendees’ transportation experience, expanding bicycle access and storage, improving support for ride-hailing and transportation network companies, and increasing park-and-ride, express bus, and other transit services by at least 100% compared to 2023 Minnesota State Fair levels.

The State Agricultural Society – the governing organization for the State Fair – would be primarily responsible for producing the plan, and the Metropolitan Council could award one or more grants to support its implementation. Any funds provided would be available until Dec. 31, 2024.

According to Rep. Hansen, the inspiration behind the bill came from attending the State Fair last year.

"We came to the realization that we need to have some type of long-term planning, both in response to the fair this year, but also in the long run," Rep. Hansen told committee members. "Everybody loves the fair, but they don’t like getting stuck in traffic."

Testifying in favor of the proposal, Minnesota State Fair CEO Renee Alexander said, "Our goal is always to provide the best experience we can, and that starts when you head out the door to get there."

Alexander said its staff is currently working year-round to source new parking lots for patrons, but as the State Fair’s popularity increases, so does the need for even more options.

Currently, 30 park-and-ride lots offer more than 14,000 spots. Onsite parking includes 5,000 spaces.

But the State Fair averages more than 200,000 people daily – or "3.5 Vikings games" – worth of people, according to Alexander.

"It’s an ongoing process for us to build-out the park-and-ride system," Alexander told the committee. "Our goal is to move people as efficiently and as safely as possible."

In 2021, the State Fair offered nine express bus parking lots, but due to Metro Transit driver shortages, that number has since decreased to four in 2024. Last year, Alexander said 736 people took an express bus option to the State Fair.

"I think we’re doing an incredible job of moving people, but we do advise you to have a plan A, B and C because it can be a challenge," Alexander said.

Both ride-hailing locations and bike storages will also continue to be an area of focus, Alexander said.

Rep. Nathan Nelson (R-Hinckley) suggested the State Fair consider finding a park-and-ride lot option near a light rail stop, creating a larger artery for people to get to the event.

Approved by the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, its first stop this legislative session, the bill now heads to the Transportation Finance and Policy Committee. A Senate companion awaits a hearing in the Senate Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee.

Any proposal would need to pass both chambers before ultimately heading to Minnesota Governor Tim Walz for approval.

If approved, the plan implementation would become effective the day following final enactment.