Hornstein pushing for BRT funding at Capitol 

Frank Hornstein
Frank Hornstein

Longtime Southwest Minneapolis Rep. Frank Hornstein (District 61A) values public transportation. Hornstein, a Linden Hills resident, does not own or use a car and primarily gets around by walking or taking buses and trains. 

As chair of the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, he is in position to act on those values. On the eve of the 2020 legislative session, which began Feb. 11, Hornstein sat down with the Southwest Journal to discuss how the power dynamics at the Capitol will impact the bonding bill, a tipping point for bike and pedestrian safety, and his vision for a comprehensive bus rapid transit network in the metro. 

“I want to make the Twin Cities the arterial bus rapid transit capital of the world,” Hornstein said. “We’re going to have 750,000 more in the region in the next 20 years and we have to find other ways to get people around besides the private automobile.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Does the fact that it’s a traditional bonding bill year create more possibilities to fund your priorities even though there’s the same balance of power as last year, with a GOP Senate, a DFL House and a DFL Governor? 

Traditionally, the main responsibility of the Legislature in the first year of the biennium is the budget. The $48 billion budget is done, and it’s likely there will be a surplus. There seems to be some consensus that most of that will go into the state’s rainy-day fund. 

So, the big-ticket item is the bonding bill, which normally passes on a bipartisan basis. This is something the state has to do because of our crumbling infrastructure. I’m very pleased that [DFL] Gov. Tim Walz has proposed $2 billion. The Republicans, I think, tend not to want to spend more than $1 billion, so that’s going to be an area of contention.

But there are priorities within the bonding bill. I have priorities in Minneapolis and everyone else has their local priorities, so it becomes a very contentious process. I don’t think the final bonding bill will be agreed to until the end of the session.

Will the bonding bill be a place to find funding to put arterial bus rapid transit (aBRT) projects over the top? How are you approaching that work going into the session? 

It’s my highest priority in the bonding bill. We want to make sure we have funding available for three lines — the D Line [connecting Brooklyn Center to the Mall of America on the existing Route 5 path], the B Line [connecting West Lake Station to downtown St. Paul on Lake Street along the current Route 21] and the E Line [connecting the University of Minnesota to Southdale Center via Hennepin Avenue and France Avenue on the current Route 6]. I think all three of those should be funded and built simultaneously. 

In the House DFL transportation bill that I authored, we had a plan to fund 20 BRT lines — and that is the vision we still have. Right now, the governor is at $55 million for BRT, and I have a bill that’s at $75 million. So if we can go up to that amount, I think we can make significant headway on all three of those lines. 

I’m optimistic. Republicans in the past have shown interest in aBRT. They’ve never put their money where their mouth is, and this is a chance to do that. 

I usually get around by transit, and the aBRT is great because you can take the bus and get to your destination a lot faster. It’s a comfortable ride. We’re using electric buses on the C Line. With transportation now eclipsing electric energy as the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, we absolutely have to expand transit. 

The second way we can really improve transportation and address climate is to make investments in passenger rail. There is a bonding proposal for a second Amtrak train to Chicago. This is something riders and the business community in Winona, Red Wing, St. Paul, Minneapolis want to see. The Northern Lights Express would revive passenger service between Minneapolis and Duluth. Across the board there’s strong support for this. 

The third part of the transportation bonding equation is active transportation. There’s a program called Safe Routes to School to provide infrastructure to improve bike and pedestrian safety in and around schools.

 We’ve always known this is a big issue in Minneapolis — there have been recent demonstrations on Lyndale Avenue because of the lack of pedestrian safety in Uptown. As a non-driver, transit, walking and biking are my options, so I have to walk a lot and it’s increasingly dangerous.

But we’re not just seeing the activism in Minneapolis now. I was invited to a meeting in Eagan because a 13-year-old boy was killed on his way to school. It was a huge, well-attended community meeting organized by a grassroots group, just sprung up, called the Eagan Pedestrian Alliance. There’s increasing attention being paid to bike and pedestrian safety region-wide now. Going out to these suburbs was really instructive to me.

Every issue has a tipping point of sorts, and I think with bike and pedestrian issues, we’re at that point.

Finally, we will do our share of local roads and bridges. But I don’t want to see the bonding bill become another transportation finance bill just chock-full of earmarks and trunk highway bonds. That is not the way to go.