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Federal Infrastructure Bill Brings Transit Funding to MN, But State and Local Leaders Will Need to Maximize the Opportunity

It’s a historic time for infrastructure funding in Minnesota and across the country! President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law in November, setting the stage for billions of dollars to arrive in Minnesota to improve our infrastructure. This includes transit and active transportation, passenger rail, electric vehicle charging, roads and bridges, and broadband internet access. While it’s still being determined exactly how those infrastructure dollars will be spent in Minnesota—and what state dollars might be needed to match the federal money– the IIJA presents a significant opportunity to invest in the transportation infrastructure we need to stabilize our climate and improve equity and safety on our streets and in our communities.

What does the federal infrastructure bill do for transit in Minnesota?

Of the nearly $90 billion dollars authorized for public transit in the IIJA, Minnesota will receive $820 million, dispersed to Metro Transit, suburban, and Greater Minnesota transit agencies across the state as an increase to the federal funds they already receive. The total amount of federal dollars includes a significant amount of money that will go toward competitive grant programs which Minnesota transit agencies are welcome to apply for—to make essential upgrades and accommodations for Minnesotans with disabilities, to build up bus charging infrastructure, to acquire electric buses, and to expand and improve transit service to underserved areas.

These competitive grant programs will likely require state or local dollars as a match for federal dollars. The good news is that Minnesota officials recently announced a significant surplus of state funding, projected to be $7.7 billion. Lawmakers will have the opportunity to use some of that surplus to maximize the amount of federal dollars coming to Minnesota for transit, biking, walking, and rolling purposes when they come into session in late January 2022.

Next steps in Minnesota

Given the uncertainty surrounding exactly how federal dollars might be spent, or how much state or local money will be required to match federal dollars, there will be many opportunities going forward to let lawmakers know how you think the new infrastructure dollars should be spent! The Minnesota Legislature is already making plans to make matching dollars available through a supplemental budget bill and bonding bill. Move Minnesota and Move Minnesota Action will be ready to advocate for lawmakers to maximize investment in our transit and active transportation systems and will keep you informed on opportunities to let lawmakers know how critical these investments are.

Despite historic transit investment, more is needed to serve communities and face the climate crisis

Although the new investment in transit is remarkable, it pales in comparison to the bill’s $4.8 billion for roads and bridges in Minnesota. At a time when the climate crisis is threatening the people and places we love, and with transportation still the top source of climate pollution in Minnesota and across the US, decision-makers must do much more to invest in sustainable, equitable systems that will move us beyond fossil fuels. Additional long-term funding for bus, rail, bicycling, walking, and rolling remains critical at both state and federal levels. Action on climate, equity, and safety for all must be prioritized over road expansion. Decisionmakers should prioritize projects that will reduce vehicle miles travelled and put people first—use road and bridge money to build a bike lane on the road, add sidewalks to complete streets projects, make pedestrian safety improvements like bumped out curbs, build more Highway Bus Rapid Transit!

Next steps at the federal level: Build Back Better?

In addition to the IIJA, Congress is still debating the Build Back Better Act, which could include up to $550 billion over ten years for climate and clean energy solutions nationwide—including additional dollars for expanding transit service and electrifying our transit system. It’s unclear whether Congress will be able to come to agreement on a Build Back Better Act to send to President Biden for signature, but the prospect for even more transit investment to combat climate change is exciting and urgently needed.

Stay tuned for further updates on federal action—and, of course, on continued transit advocacy and action here at home.