Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Minnesota Reformer and is reprinted with permission.
LITTLE FALLS, MINN. — Avon resident Ricky Zyvoloski crosses the Memorial Bridge in Little Falls twice a week to visit family. Sometimes he has to wait for one of the 46 trains per day that cross the road just before the bridge.
But with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed by President Joe Biden in 2021, Little Falls will receive $3.2 million to rebuild the bridge so it doesn’t cross the railroad tracks, which means drivers like Zyvoloski will spend less time waiting.
“That would be nice,” Zyvoloski said, shortly after waiting for a train to cross.
The Memorial/Broadway bridge reconstruction is one of numerous projects in Minnesota to be funded with more than $7.4 billion coming to the state over the next five years through the federal infrastructure package and matching state funds approved by the Legislature.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation expects to receive up to $4.7 billion, while Twin Cities transportation projects will receive up to $1.2 billion.
Even without the matching funds in place, various government entities still managed to receive $620 million in discretionary funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation — primarily the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Rail Administration and the Federal Highway Administration — to implement projects that include making roadways safer, reconnecting communities cleaved by highways, eliminating at-grade railroad crossings and implementing technologies to enhance how people get around.
Those who don’t drive will have more, perhaps faster and cleaner ways to get around
The law makes major investments in transit, biking and walking, with $820 million supporting Minnesota transit alone over the next five years, a 31% increase according to MnDOT. The Metropolitan Council, which runs Metro Transit, doled out close to $260 million in federal funding for transit, walking and biking in 2022, a near three-fold increase from what it got in 2020.
Entities in the Twin Cities have also received $315 million for transit, biking and walking from discretionary grants alone. The lion’s share — $250 million from the Federal Transit Administration — will go towards building the beleaguered Southwest Light Rail project, which continues to be the subject of a scathing audit by the Office of the Legislative Auditor. Last month, the Met Council announced it will plug the remaining $272 million gap with formula allocations from the federal government and Hennepin County transportation sales tax proceeds.
The balance of the discretionary grants are going to projects that redesign roads to reduce crashes, for example. Last August, Hennepin County received $12 million from the Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant to re-stripe Lake Street, adding turn and bus-only lanes in conjunction with Metro Transit’s building of the B Line, an arterial rapid transit route to connect downtown St. Paul with the Minneapolis-St. Louis Park border. MnDOT also received $18 million from the RAISE grant to rebuild Paul Bunyan Drive in northwestern Bemidji.
Nearly $45 million of the discretionary grants the state received over the past two years are for buses that use cleaner fuels, either electricity or propane. Among them is Southwest Transit, which received $8.1 million in 2022 to buy what will be the first electric commuter coach buses to operate in a consistent subzero environment in North America. The Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe, as well as transit operations serving Crookston and Worthington, received a total of $2.2 million to buy propane buses.
The Iron Range Rehabilitation and Resources Board received $9 million this year from the Federal Highway Administration’s Advanced Transportation Technology and Innovation (ATTAIN) discretionary grant to expand an autonomous shuttle service in Grand Rapids. The service, which launched in 2022, is the first of its kind to operate in a rural environment in the United States and is intended to enhance how those with limited mobility get around while giving autonomous vehicle researchers and manufacturers the opportunity to hone autonomous vehicles’ ability to operate in rural winter environments.
Those who have electric vehicles will have more opportunities to charge them. The state will receive $68 million in formula funds over the next five years to build electric vehicle charging stations. This fall, they plan to accept applications from public or private entities that wish to build out and maintain charging stations along the I-94 and I-35 corridors. Duluth also received $25 million from the DOT’s RAISE grant to rebuild Superior Street in the Lincoln Park neighborhood with electric vehicle charging stations.
Communities elsewhere in greater Minnesota will receive over $52 million in discretionary funds to enhance biking and walking, which can include building new sidewalks and bike paths, as well as devising plans to keep people biking and walking safe. That’s on top of $28 million annually in formula funds for the entire state, about a 65% increase from previous years.
Duluth’s Superior Street rebuild also calls for building a bike trail, as well as ensuring its sidewalks comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Duluth will also receive $8 million to rebuild a bike trail as part of its rebuilding of a wall to protect its downtown from Lake Superior flooding.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also requires state transportation agencies to reduce carbon pollution from highways. In Minnesota, greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles are a top contributor to climate change. Minnesota will receive $107 million — about $20 million annually, plus a 1.9% increase — over the next five years to develop and implement the policy. The Twin Cities will receive $41 million over the next five years to fund projects that reduce carbon pollution. MnDOT must also develop a carbon reduction strategy and submit it to the federal government by mid-November.
Meanwhile, our roads will be bigger, smarter and perhaps safer
Minnesota will receive just over $811 million annually to maintain our roads and bridges. An additional $62 million annually will be dedicated solely for bridges, with roughly 7% going to the metro area. In addition to formula funds, MnDOT also received $35 million in Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants, $25 million of which will go towards replacing bridges along I-90 in Austin, in southern Minnesota.
MnDOT will also receive $121 million over the next five years from the federal PROTECT (Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation) pool to ensure transportation infrastructure can withstand climate change. So far, the Met Council allocated $17 million of that to raise Trunk Highway 5 by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Carver County, and a county road in Washington County’s Cottage Grove out of a floodplain.
Minnesota also received money to widen roads. Carver County received $10 million from the INFRA pot to widen five miles of U.S. Highway 212 between Cologne and Norwood Young America in the southern part of the county. MnDOT also received a $48 million loan from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act to widen U.S. Highway 14 between New Ulm and Nicollet to four lanes. Both projects are part of multi-year efforts to widen their respective freeways to facilitate freight movement and address crashes.
Finally, in February, Reconnect Rondo received $2 million from the Reconnecting Communities pool to conduct an environmental and traffic review for their idea to build a land bridge over I-94 in the Rondo neighborhood, which was cleaved in two in the 1960s by the freeway. Those plans, however, may be threatened as MnDOT considers what to do with I-94 between St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Cutting down on rail crossings
The Infrastructure Law so far has allocated $34 million to Minnesota to eliminate at-grade rail crossings, which can cause vehicle congestion when one or several long trains cross the street. Moorhead received a $26.3 million Rural Surface Transportation Grant to grade separate 11th Street in Downtown Moorhead from a railroad crossing. It’s part of a larger effort by the city to remake its downtown to attract more people, which includes demolishing a mall and building more housing.
This year, both Little Falls and Kandiyohi County received a total of $8 million from the Railroad Crossing Elimination program to reconstruct their respective grade crossings. The Little Falls project, used by Zyvolosky, involves reconstructing the city’s only Mississippi River crossing, which today also intersects with a rail crossing that handles 46 trains per day, including one Amtrak Empire Builder train in each direction.
The project in Kandiyohi County, which involves realigning a county road so it does not cross Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks, is part of a larger state and county project to accommodate a new industrial park in Willmar by reconfiguring area roads and a railyard.
Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: email@example.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.