By Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate
The Metropolitan Council recently took public comment on an amendment to add 58 transportation projects totaling $159 million in federal funding to its project list known as the “TIP.” These projects were selected by the Met Council’s Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) in 2012. The applications were first submitted back in 2011.
Here is a sample of four of 58 projects being funded—one from each of the four categories and the amount of federal funding to be awarded:
- $6 $7 million widening of TH116 in Anoka County from two lanes to four lanes in the cities of Andover and Ham Lake (Surface Transportation Program category)
- $1 million for an extension of the Point Douglas Regional Trail in Washington County (Transportation Enhancement category)
- $6.4 million for improved bus service on Snelling Avenue in Saint Paul (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Category)
- $1.6 million for replacement of a Hennepin County bridge on TH46 over Godfrey Parkway in Minneapolis (Bridge Improvement and Replacement Category)
Click here for the full list of projects by category.
As a fairly new member of the Transportation Advisory Board, let me attempt to decode how this process works.
Every couple of years, the Twin Cities region decides how to spend a good chunk of federal transportation funds—approximately $160 million to $180 million. The Twin Cities Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) is tasked with running a process to make these funding decisions. TAB, an extension of the Metropolitan Council, is comprised of 33 members including elected officials.
The federal funding allocated by TAB is a relatively small amount compared to larger sums of state and federal transportation funding that MnDOT, and to a lesser extent, the Met Council and regional transit agencies, allocate. However, the variety of transportation projects that can be funded with this money is less constrained (i.e. no state constitutional limits restricting funds for “highway purposes only”), and could have a greater amount of public input.
The Transportation Advisory Board (with assistance from a Technical Advisory Committee) creates funding categories and develops detailed scoring criteria to select what it believes is the best slate of projects proposed by local units of government and other public agencies. The Regional Solicitation process gives all cities and counties in the region an opportunity to submit projects for TAB’s consideration.
When approved, the Metropolitan Council will add this new roster of 58 projects to its running list—the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) document. These projects are planned for implementation over the next few years. The TIP includes a listing of all road, bridge, transit, and non-motorized projects in the region funded with federal money.
Advocates should take note that local decision-making about how to spend much of this federal money has great flexibility, particularly in the category called the Surface Transportation Program (STP).
Unfortunately, the TIP amendment is the end of a lengthy project selection process and, as such, is not the best opportunity to shape outcomes. So where does the greatest opportunity for public impact lie?
The key shapers of outcomes are: 1) how the regional solicitation is designed, 2) the TAB policies that put certain projects in certain categories, and 3) the scoring criteria and selection of projects by the TAB/Met Council.
Given recent changes in federal law, the Met Council has recognized the need to re-assess, from the ground up, the categories, selection process, and scoring criteria for this flexible federal funding. The Council is also developing a new long-range regional plan (Thrive MSP), which will inform the Council’s Transportation Policy Plan, which then informs how money, including this federal funding, gets spent.
Bottom line: As we’ve reported previously, how Twin Cities residents get around is changing greatly, with less car travel and far more transit, bicycling, and walking (partly made possible by more compact, mixed-use development and improving transportation options). The biggest opportunity for change will come in the future when there is an opportunity to influence the criteria and policies that drive the type of projects that can be submitted and how they are scored. Stay tuned for future communications about opportunities to help shape how our region grows and how it invests federal, state, and local resources.