Let's establish four key facts right away:
- Minnesota's climate is changing. Warmer winters and more extreme precipitation threaten our health, our natural resources, our wildlife, our economy and our way of life. This impacts all of us, but it is those who have lower incomes — Minnesotans who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, and farmers and others with livelihoods connected to our land — who will be hurt the worst.
- Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from human activity are a significant driver of climate change.
- Since 2016, transportation has been the largest source of carbon pollution in Minnesota.
- The state of Minnesota has GHG emission reduction goals, but we failed to meet the 2015 goal (15% reduction from 2005 levels) and we are not on track to meet our 2025 goal of 30% reduction.
In 2020, MnDOT created a Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council (STAC) made up of 22 leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors, community organizations and elected officials to advise the agency on strategies to reduce carbon pollution from transportation, consistent with the Minnesota's Next Generation Energy Act goals and in a way that promotes equity, environmental justice and economic development.
Recently, MnDOT adopted several of the STAC's recommendations to:
- Develop a clean fuels policy.
- Support electric vehicle (EV) rebates.
- Increase investment in charging infrastructure.
- Set a preliminary goal of a 20% reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) statewide by 2050.
- Prioritize transit and high-occupancy vehicles (HOV) on MnDOT roads.
- Continue to prioritize other solutions before considering highway expansion.
The simple reality is that car ownership is expensive and should not be a requirement to get around safely and efficiently in our state. Developing a transportation system primarily for single occupancy cars is inefficient, expensive, and unfair — especially to low-income households, who spend an average of 42% of their annual income on transportation.
Not everyone has access to a car, no one likes getting stuck in traffic congestion, and spending more time sitting in cars makes us less healthy through inactivity and pollution.
When we think about reducing vehicle miles traveled, we are focused on providing safe, convenient, and affordable alternatives to driving alone, not about restricting anyone's ability to get around.
Bikeable, walkable communities that include convenient and affordable transit options are essential to a safer, healthier, and more livable future in Minnesota. We also need to ensure that transportation infrastructure is tailored to the local community. Needs in urban cores are different from needs in greater Minnesota, which is why the 20% reduction goal for VMT is preliminary. We recognize that opportunities may be different for urban, suburban and rural areas and that local land use decisions have an impact.
Finalizing the goal, along with tools and resources to support it, will require extensive collaboration with local partners and engagement with communities. We don't have all the answers yet, but we know the work ahead of us is ultimately to give people more choices to travel in sustainable and reliable ways. Not assuming a vehicle-first approach will improve health outcomes and save everyone time and money — win/win solutions for us all.
There is no question that MnDOT's future will prioritize multiple modes of transportation, but we also need to do more to embrace and accelerate the adoption of EVs. Building out a more complete network of charging stations will help reduce "range anxiety," a major factor in many folks' decision to purchase an electric vehicle or not.
The shift to EVs will also leverage rapid progress made by Minnesota utilities to transition to lower carbon electricity generation, making EVs even cleaner over time. Right now, EVs make up less than 1% of all registered vehicles in Minnesota — but the interest in Minnesota and nationwide in making the switch to electric is stronger than ever. State policy should acknowledge and capitalize on that interest and prioritize solutions that make purchasing and driving an EV easier and more affordable.
MnDOT owns and operates just a fraction of Minnesota's 142,000 miles of roadway. Envisioning and creating a multimodal, sustainable, low-carbon transportation system that better serves all people will require broad public-private partnerships and collaboration led by science-based policies.
From community solar panels on MnDOT properties to a zero-emission fleet by 2030, MnDOT is doing the work internally to lead by example — and through the work of the STAC and other major initiatives like Rethinking I-94, the agency is committed to listening to community and taking bold and groundbreaking action that reduces carbon pollution and provides options for all Minnesotans.
All of Minnesota's businesses, organizations and governments are needed in this work. It is our shared duty and responsibility to act now to realize a low-carbon future that reduces inequities, improves public health, emphasizes safety, and supports economic opportunity. Future generations are depending on us.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher is commissioner, Minnesota Department of Transportation. Chris Clark is president, Xcel Energy Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota and co-chair of the MnDOT Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council. Ash Narayanan, executive director of Our Streets Mpls, and Emma Struss are co-chairs ofVMT Reduction and Transportation Options.