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Route to new commuter normal could run through I-494 commission, bill supporters say

Most employers in the south metro are bringing their workers back on-site, according to a survey by the I-494 Corridor Commission.

But with job changes during the pandemic and more flexible working hours, many commuters heading to the office are climbing back behind the wheel rather than into a carpool.

A bill that would appropriate $300,000 annually to fund the commission, HF195, was laid over Tuesday by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

“I’m proud to be associated one way or the other with commission,” said bill sponsor Rep. Steve Elkins (DFL-Bloomington). “They’ve done work on telecommuting for a very long time, starting with a program at Best Buy 15 years ago. It’s a premiere organization to teach employers how to do telework and do it effectively.”

Working to alleviate transit-related problems in that area of the Twin Cities, the commission started in 1986 with a joint-powers agreement among Bloomington, Richfield, Edina, Eden Prairie and Minnetonka. Its goal is to reduce congestion and improve air quality in the Interstate 494 corridor, site of 19% of the metro population and 21% of metro area jobs.

As the corridor includes the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and Mall of America, it’s also a key transportation route statewide.

The commission works with employers and commuters to offer alternatives to driving solo. Strategies range from providing free bike racks for some companies to offering customized transit information for commuters. Much of the commission’s pre-pandemic outreach was through employers, but individual commuters can access resources through its website.

The commission estimates it helps 6,000 drive-alone commuters switch to another mode of transportation in a typical year, resulting in 56 million vehicle miles avoided. 

One strategy the commission uses to reduce congestion is helping the employers manage telework programs, which includes maintaining the Twin Cities Telework website, hosting webinars, training managers and offering tips for ergonomic home offices and improving mental health for remote workers.

Part of the goal of the proposed legislation is to continue scaling up a program that works, Elkins said.  

“Now that we see hybrid work is here to stay, I think this organization is positioned to help employers do it well,” he said.  

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