“Highway 14 got zip.”
The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced this year’s projects that will receive funding through the Corridors of Commerce program, and Mankato DFL State Representative Jack Considine said the failure to fund a project that has been discussed for 40 years is frustrating. “That’s really very disappointing, given that the chair (of the Minnesota House Transportation Finance Committee) is Representative (Paul) Torkelson and one of the major portions that is incomplete is in his district – going to New Ulm, which is in his district.”
The Corridors of Commerce program was set up several years ago and Considine said it was not intended to repair roads and bridges in the metro but this year, “All of the projects are in the larger metro area, and that is not what was supposed to be the use of Corridors of Commerce.’
Instead, he said it was meant to fund road projects connecting regional economic hubs to one another, “In Greater Minnesota areas, like Rochester and Mankato, St. Cloud, New Ulm, Brainerd and Duluth. Areas of commerce outside of the Twin Cities.”
But scoring rules for projects funded through the program were changed by the legislature last year, which Considine said allowed more proposals in the Cities to qualify for the funding. “When they came out with some of the changes in definition, almost immediately that was my concern when they did that was that other projects were going to get bumped up ahead of Highway 14,” he stated.
There are two stretches of Highway 14 between Rochester and New Ulm that remain two lanes; New Ulm to Nicollet and Owatonna to Dodge Center. The cost to expand the highway to four lanes in those areas is estimated to be about $300 million.
The projects selected total around $417 million and represent a roughly 51-49-percent funding split between Greater Minnesota and the metro area.
MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle said on Interstate 94 from St. Michael to Albertville, funding will be provided to add an auxiliary lane on both sides of the highway; Highway 169 in Elk River from Highway 101 to 197th Avenue will be converted to a freeway by building interchanges at all at-grade crossings; on I-494 from highway 77 to westbound Interstate 34, the project will add a MNPass lane on both sides of the freeway; and on Interstate 494 at its intersection with 35W, the funding will add a ramp from northbound 35W to westbound 494.
The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities President and Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski said, “The Corridors of Commerce awards announced this morning demonstrate a massive failure on MnDOT’s part to address transportation needs statewide. Corridors of Commerce was clearly designed to be statewide program aimed at connecting regional corridors to one another and to the metro area. There is far more to Minnesota than a 40-mile radius around U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, but you certainly wouldn’t know that from looking at the 2018 awards.
“We demand that the Legislature take immediate action to suspend MnDOT’s decision so that the program can be reevaluated and brought in line with its original purpose,” he added.