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In Big Move, MnDOT Sets Goal to Reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Transportation made a critically important decision to adopt a goal to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT)—or the amount we drive—by 20% across the state by 2050. The goal grew out of a recommendation from MnDOT’s Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council, on which Move Minnesota’s Sam Rockwell serves as a technical expert.

The 20% reduction goal—which MnDOT will refine with further research, community engagement, and geographic-specific sub targets—reflects the knowledge that Minnesotans must drive less to meet critical climate targets, a fact noted by Move Minnesota and Transportation for America in last fall’s Driving Down Emissions report. It also aligns with similar goals at local and state levels around Minnesota and the country.

The timing of MnDOT’s announcement couldn’t come soon enough: On January 14 of this year, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reported that Minnesota is not meeting crucial carbon reduction benchmarks established in the state’s Next Generation Energy Act. With transportation holding the unfortunate distinction of being Minnesota’s most polluting sector, significant and fast action to reduce transportation emissions is crucial.

Setting a VMT goal is an important step. Now decision-makers at every level of government must actually act on that goal. On this front, MnDOT fell short in their announcement last week.

On the positive side: the agency acknowledged that “we now know that trying to address congestion by expanding highways not only doesn’t work, it is doing harm…. [Further,] the data is clear—highway capacity expansion does not reduce traffic congestion over the long term. Instead, capacity expansion projects have been shown to induce more driving—leading to more congestion and carbon emissions.” This is very strong language from MnDOT, and shows that agency leadership understands how important it is for MnDOT to shift from being a highway department.

Even so, MnDOT declined to adopt their advisory council’s recommendation to “stop expanding highway capacity to reduce congestion.” MnDOT also punted on the council’s recommendation to “prioritize transit” on MnDOT roads and highways, noting that MnDOT already provides High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes and allows buses to drive on highway shoulders. This is inadequate.

With climate stakes as high as they are, every transportation decision that MnDOT makes will either be part of the solution or part of the problem. If MnDOT continues its status quo, investing in infrastructure that induces more climate pollution, the agency actively and knowingly undermines our collective future. MnDOT—and the state as a whole—needs to put concern for climate at the center of their planning; other concerns, like congestion relief, should only be addressed in a climate-first decision-making framework.

State lawmakers must also face the realities of our climate in crisis. Unfortunately, so far in this legislative session, Governor Walz has not proposed dedicated long-term funding for transit to allow agencies to plan for and implement long-term transformative investments. Expanding transit in a way that will reduce driving and protect our climate, while also making important strides toward racial equity and economic resilience and to create healthy, connected communities that truly work for everyone, is attainable—Move Minnesota developed a proposal that does just that. You can tell your legislators how important it is here—it makes a huge difference!

Climate change is serious and irreversible—but the worst is not inevitable. Not if we clean up the cars on the road and dramatically expand our transit system. MnDOT moved us one step closer to this goal last week. Move Minnesota applauds MnDOT for that decision and looks forward to working with the agency and advocating for change to transform our transportation network into one that is just and sustainable for our communities, both present and future.