Highway 34 among new Corridors of Commerce projects
By Don Davis
The Dayton administration plans to construct 10 highway projects around Minnesota to improve commerce transportation.
The projects are not part of the state’s 20-year transportation plan, but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday that the projects will show Minnesotans what can be done if transportation revenue is increased.
“It will give Minnesotans an indication of what’s possible with increased funding,” he said of the $300 million program known as Corridors of Commerce.
Projects the next three years range from adding passing lanes to Minnesota 23 from Willmar south to Interstate 90 to doing the same on Minnesota 34 between Detroit Lakes and Nevis.
The local project will add passing lanes to a portion of Highway 34 that will help reduce congestion and improve travel for resident and freight traffic. Work is expected to start in 2014.
Rep. Roger Erickson (DFL – Baudette) is happy to see local roads improved.
“We all know that our roads across the state need some work,” Erickson said. “That’s why I pushed for this program when it was on the House floor. It’s a good first start to address all the road projects we need to tackle over the next few years.”
Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) was also in favor of the decision.
“I’m pleased that the Department of Transportation will be following my call in prioritizing spending on improvements to roads in Greater Minnesota,” Green said. “This Highway 34 project will enhance highway safety by reducing pressure for drivers to make high-risk passes. Too often transportation dollars are wasted on projects in the metro. It’s refreshing that our tax dollars are being spent on improving such a critical road in our community.”
While just two of the eight projects are in the Twin Cities, transportation officials say money spent will be about even between the metropolitan area and greater Minnesota.
The selected projects were among more than 400 proposals representing more than 100 unique projects that the Minnesota Department of Transportation received earlier this fall from public sector partners, stakeholders and interested citizens across the state. Agency staff evaluated eligible projects on selection criteria that included project readiness and deliverability, community support, projected return on investment, and safety impacts.
Dayton and Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said that unless something changes, the state will fall $10 billion short of what is needed just to keep state highways at today’s levels.
Most state highway funds go to preserving existing roads, not expanding them.
The governor said the Corridors of Commerce program will serve as an example of what is possible.
Dayton plans to give legislators a proposal to increase transportation funding next year, but on Thursday said he does not know how it will look. He said the gasoline tax, even if raised, would not provide needed money.
He said that he did not know if he can garner the needed support next year, during a legislative session he wants to be the “unsession,” dedicated to overturning unneeded laws and other items that have little budget impact.
“This is a down payment,” Zelle said of Corridors of Commerce. “It is not nearly enough.... It is essentially to add capacity ... and help freight movement.”