State lawmakers discuss ideas to relieve traffic at the state fair

Improving State Fair transportation

Improving State Fair transportation

The Minnesota State Fairgrounds are quiet now, in leafy hibernation.

But fast-forward five months, and things will be much different.

“It’s like if you live around here, you know it’s coming,” says Minda Hervonen, from St. Paul. “Plan accordingly.”

Fair officials say in 2023, about 1.8 million people visited the state fair during its 12-day run- and those numbers are expected to rise this year.

“It’s my favorite 12 days of the year,” says restaurant owner Nick Mancini, who runs his Al Fresco establishment on the fairgrounds. “I can poke my head up around the corner, near Snelling and Como there. You can’t see the end of the vehicle traffic coming in either way.”

“How bad is state fair traffic?” asked Scott Orf aloud. “Depends on what day, actually.”

Orf, from St. Paul, says he’s driven a tractor-trailer during that 12-day period.  

“Early morning, not too bad, afternoon and evening, horrible,” he declares.

State lawmakers have been talking about the issue since last summer.

“Folks are anxious, there’s so much to do,” Representative Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS at the time. “It’s a wonderful place to be but getting here should not be a challenge.”

Now, they and fair officials are holding committee hearings at the Capitol hoping to avoid a repeat this year.  

“Last year was an especially challenging fair if anybody tried to get there,” says Representative Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul). “It was a snag or a snarl of a transportation challenge.”  

“It’s a door-to-door experience, and understand sometimes it can be frustrating, based on the level of the volume of the traffic we have,” added Renee Alexander, the state fair CEO.  

A bill calls for the State Agricultural Society that runs the fair, and the Metropolitan Council, to produce a plan by August 1st.

Among the goals:

  • Reduce traffic, congestion, and parking around the fairgrounds.
  • Double transit service levels from 2023.
  • Expand ridesharing and bike storage.

“Is there a park and ride that could service a light rail stop that would then be a bigger artery, that would be able to get out?” questioned Representative Nathan Nelson (R-Hinckley).

“The challenge is finding a lot that has the capacity that we need that’s also near a light rail stop,” Alexander responded.

“It was worse back in the day, when they didn’t have shuttle buses, and we all functioned,” Hervonen says.

She adds the shuttles are a good service, but in some cases, she says, fair goers should be prepared to walk.  

“Depending on where you get picked up or get on the shuttle bus, whatever church or whatever it’s at, you can walk a long way sometimes,” Hervonen explains. “Leaving the fair to the bus can be pretty far.”

Lawmakers say this is a problem that’s not going away.

Fair officials say last year, about 736,000 people used public transportation to get to and from the fairgrounds- a little less than half of all fair goers. As the bill moves to another committee, lawmakers say more shuttles and fewer cars appears to be one solution.

“Parking is limited down here, and they know that,” Orf says. “If there’s enough parking, use it. I’ve used the bus many, many times, it’s great. If there’s enough running, just get people to use it.”

RELATED: 2 Minnesota lawmakers unveil plan for bill to increase State Fair transit options