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Transportation panel OKs omnibus bill proposing funding boost for state's roads, transit and smaller cities

(House Photography file photo)

With billions of dollars going to the states through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, it is historic times for transportation.

“We’ve seen nothing like this since the New Deal,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls).

He sponsors the omnibus transportation bill, HF1683, which would appropriate an additional $325 million appropriated from the General Fund and $850 million from the Trunk Highway Fund through the next biennium for state transportation needs.

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Looking at implications of the federal actions, appropriating money and offering guidance to ensure Minnesota gets its fair share, while reflecting the state’s values was the top priority, Hornstein said.

The bill was approved, as amended, by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee Thursday on a 10-7 party-line vote. It now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill is balanced, Hornstein said, and makes a big statement about safety, while supporting all modes of transportation and all parts of the state. He noted funding for bridges, small cities and transit and said he is proud to be able to move forward with the Northern Lights Express, a project that would begin passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Duluth.

Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca) said there are good things in this bill, such as revamping the Corridors of Commerce program and additional funding for small cities. But some things went too far, and others not far enough, he said. 

A Metro Transit Green Line train rolls by the State Capitol April 1. (Photo by Paul Battaglia)

“I think this will be a real struggle to get out of conference [committee] which saddens me,” he said. 

One area of concern is the absence of a proposal that would dedicate auto parts sales tax revenue to go toward transportation.

A separate Hornstein-sponsored bill that would split the sales tax revenue between roads and transit received prior committee approval and was sent to the House Taxes Committee.

However, the proposal is in the Senate omnibus transportation bill, SF1154, which awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee. Senate leaders say all of the estimated $550 million in revenue over the next three years would go to roads and bridges.

While Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) and Petersburg both want the sales tax proposal to be part of the House bill, Hornstein said it is proper to be in the tax committee.

Differing perspectives of committee members were clear through amendments offered, discussed and adopted or not.

Unsuccessful amendments offered by Republicans would have defunded the Northern Lights Express; stopped operations of the North Star commuter passenger rail line; kept the Department of Transportation from hiring staff for the new Traffic Safety Advisory Board; and prevented state money to go toward installing, operating or maintaining charging stations at highway rest stops.

The committee did adopt several amendments, including:

  • to include a member of Minnesota Operation Lifesaver, which deals with safety around railroads, and a member of Minnesota County Engineers Association to the Traffic Safety Advisory Council;
  • clarifying language on towed vehicle provisions to start clocks on possible action when a vehicle is impounded;
  • requiring the Department of Public Safety and MnDOT to submit recommendations for a speed camera pilot project to address work zone safety;
  • clearing up language on bicycle safety;
  • dealing with the pollinator protection program in order to addresses concerns from MnDOT;  
  • allowing Ramsey County to change speed limits on specific county highways that run through suburban neighborhoods; and
  • using $750,000 to reimburse limited-service driver's license agents for equipment needed to become a full-service provider.

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