BRT funding fate tied to bonding bill

A graphic of the planned B Line bus rapid transit route along Lake Street in Minneapolis.

Funds to construct two new bus rapid transit (BRT) lines in Minneapolis are hanging in the balance of a bonding bill with an uncertain outcome in September’s pending special session of the state Legislature.

The roughly $55 million needed to fully fund the B and D lines was in place in a $1.8 billion public works bonding bill that fell apart during a July special session after failing to reach a 60% majority of votes in the House of Representatives.

House Republicans have stated they will not vote for a bonding bill unless Gov. Tim Walz ends his peacetime emergency powers enacted in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Southwest Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-61A), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said he is glad to be “on the cusp” of funding the lines and called the GOP objection to the emergency declaration “absurd,” citing the 49 other states with such declarations during the pandemic.

The B Line would largely replace Route 21, running from the future West Lake light rail station to Downtown St. Paul via Lake Street in Minneapolis and Marshall and Selby avenues in St. Paul. The D Line would enhance the current Route 5 service connecting Brooklyn Center to the Mall of America primarily using Fremont and Emerson avenues on the North Side and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis.

BRT service, planners say, increases speed and comfort of bus service with more developed stations farther apart than standard stops, payment before boarding (at either the front or middle of the bus) and the ability for buses to communicate with traffic signals to get elongated or faster green lights at key intersections.

With Lake Street experiencing some of the most extensive damage in the civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd, officials say construction of the B Line is more important than ever.

“Lake Street will be rebuilt and we want BRT to be part of that rebuilding,” Hornstein said. The Metropolitan Council expressed confidence that the funding will come through the Legislature and does not have plans to secure needed dollars from other entities should it fail.

“The council remains optimistic that there will be an agreement on a bonding bill that includes funding for both the D and B lines when the Legislature reconvenes in September for a special session,” Met Council spokesperson Bonnie Kollodge told the Southwest Journal. “Both projects will be fully funded if we secure the bonds from the state.”

Route 5 and Route 21 are the first- and second-most used bus lines in the Twin Cities, according to Metro Transit, and advocates say bringing faster, more reliable service to those lines is key for climate and equity goals in the region.

“It always was a strong case for equity with these two lines, and now the case is even stronger,” Hornstein said.