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Omnibus transportation policy bill proposes sweeping changes to Met Council

The Metropolitan Council headquarters in downtown St. Paul. House Photography file photo

Big changes would be coming to the powerful Metropolitan Council under the omnibus transportation and regional governance policy bill.

The bill incorporates multiple pieces of legislation previously heard by the committee that would change the size and makeup of the regional planning body, alter how the agency’s finances are monitored by the state, and change the way it can pay for capital maintenance costs.

Approved Wednesday by the House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy Committee, HF3369 sponsored by Rep. Linda Runbeck (R-Circle Pines), would enlarge the council board from 17 to 29 members — most of whom would be local elected officials appointed by local committees in lieu of the current gubernatorial appointees.

The bill would also make a number of transportation policy changes, including a measure that proposes to prohibit the Department of Public Safety from suspending a person’s driver’s license based solely on unpaid traffic tickets, parking fines, or surcharges.

A companion, SF3418, sponsored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes), awaits action by the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.

Metropolitan Council provisions

The bill continues a revived legislative Republican effort to affect big changes to the Metropolitan Council, the regional, unelected body responsible for land use, transit, and wastewater planning for the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area.

HF3369 includes Rep. Tony Albright’s (R-Prior Lake) proposal that would completely remake the council’s membership by having municipal committees in each council district appoint a local elected official from that district to the board. They would be joined by officials appointed by the seven metro counties and the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Those members would serve staggered four-year terms. Currently, Metropolitan Council members serve concurrent four-year terms coterminously with the governor that appointed them. 

Supporters of overhauling the council say it has overreached its originally-intended responsibilities and has become unaccountable to the many communities it represents. The plan’s detractors say, among other complaints, that it presents a conflict of interest to have officials who were elected locally voting on region-wide issues.

Some other Met Council-related provisions proposed in the bill would:

  • prohibit the co-location of freight rail and light rail passenger trains in the same rail corridor, presenting major problems for the proposed Southwest and Bottineau light rail lines in the west metro;
  • prevent the council from using its operating budget reserves and state General Fund appropriations for capital costs of transit, including capital maintenance costs;
  • require the council’s transportation-related budget match the state’s fiscal year, from July 1 to June 30 of the following year, beginning July 1, 2019; and
  • direct the agency to develop a transit system development implementation plan that excludes planning for expanded light rail, commuter rail or streetcar lines in favor of bus rapid transit and express bus corridors.

Policy provisions

Other transportation policy provisions included in the bill would:

  • set a minimum length of 2,500 feet for on-ramps at fixed motor vehicle weigh stations where the ramp enters into the left lane of a trunk highway, and prevent operations at weigh stations that do not conform to the requirement by Nov. 1, 2018;
  • authorize licensed physical therapists to provide a medical statement that can be used to obtain a disability parking permit or disability license plates;
  • allow the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority to use authority funds to cover the county’s share of operating and maintenance costs related to the Northstar Commuter Rail, an exception not currently granted to other county regional rail authorities in covering operating costs of transit lines;
  • extend the time period that three types of temporary motor vehicle permits are valid for those permits issued due to problems with the state’s new motor vehicle registration system, MNLARS; and
  • direct the Department of Transportation to revise its highway investment plan to prioritize a reduction in metro congestion. 

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