Heartland Express benefiting from grant to increase routes

Derrick Knutson
[email protected]

Craig Rempp, the transit director for Heartland Express, told the Chisago County Board of Commissioners April 19 Heartland was “one of the few” transportation services to have its entire funding proposal approved by the state as part of a grant application.

Lt. Governor Tina Smith and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle March 30 announced $23.7 million in grants would be awarded to help meet the growing need for transit services in Greater Minnesota.

Rempp said he and his staff worked hard to come up with a proposal to procure some of the grant money.

“We had three weeks to put this together, and we had nothing in place to start with,” he said. “The staff came in on a holiday and helped.

Out of the 16 projects (they applied for), we got awarded all of them.”

Rempp explained Heartland received about $1.83 million in grants. About $600,000 of that will be used to purchase seven new buses.

The rest of the money Heartland will use to offer more routes.

“That amounted to nine new routes, three weekly routes, similar to what we do now,” Rempp said. “It’s just to expand service. There will be three routes on Saturday: one for the town of North Branch, one for Cambridge and one for the town of Isanti, and then three routes on Sunday for those same towns.”

Rempp said the new buses will be in the fleet and the new expanded routes should be available in the next few months.

“They want us to get it out on the road as quickly as possible,” he said. “It will be unofficially July 1 — that is what the state is pushing us to try and get done.”

The Minnesota Department of Transportation estimates that operating expenses for Greater Minnesota transit will exceed revenues by 2021, according to a press release from Gov. Mark Dayton’s office. The deficit between revenues and expenses is expected to climb to $31 million by 2025. Additional resources will be needed starting in 2021 to achieve a long-term service plan that meets the demands of Greater Minnesota transit users.