by Aaron Brom
ECM Sun Newspapers
Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced Thursday, Nov. 14, that 10 highway construction projects will receive funding through the state’s new $300 million Corridors of Commerce program.
Included on the list is adding a lane on Interstate 94 between Rogers and St. Michael, a long-sought-after goal by the I-94 Coalition of freeway corridor cities in the northwest metro, including Maple Grove, Dayton, Rogers, St. Michael, Albertville, Monticello and others. The preliminary cost for this project is between $35 million and $46 million.
The overall Corridors of Commerce projects’ goal is to strengthen Minnesota’s transportation system by adding capacity and improving the movement of freight across the state.
“These projects will reduce travel times and improve safety for Minnesota citizens and help our businesses transport their products more efficiently,” Dayton said. “The number of projects from all over our state, which sought financing from this program, underscores the acute need for more transportation funding.”
Transportation improvements include the addition of lanes, bypasses and shoulders to essential travel corridors in the state. The bonding authority is effective July 1, 2014, with five projects scheduled to start in 2014, three in 2015 and two in 2016. The I-94 project between Rogers and St. Michael is set for 2014.
The selected projects were among more than 400 proposals representing more than 100 unique projects that MnDOT 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.
Coalition President and St. Michael City Administrator Steve Bot couldn’t hide his excitement.
“It’s a great day for our residents, businesses, cities, counties, region and state!” Bot said. “Based on traffic modeling, it appears the project will include great traffic flow benefit through expansion of the three lane section from westbound Highway 101 to Highway 241, widening of the Crow River Bridges and adding a full eastbound ‘auxiliary lane’ from Highway 241 to Highway 101.”
Bot said the I-94 project is the first step in the coalition’s goal of expanding I-94 capacity to St. Cloud.
“The initial expansion phase of I-94 will reduce congestion over the Crow River between the cities of Rogers and St. Michael for commuters, cabin travelers and freight,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann called the state’s decision to fund this leg of the project a down payment on the entire stretch.
“As I travel across Central Minnesota listening to small business owners and local elected officials, one of their chief concerns has been the impact of traffic congestion on their businesses,” she said. “I am pleased to see that their concerns have been taken into consideration and this project will come to fruition. Expansion of this corridor is vital to Minnesota’s current and future competitiveness.”
Minnesota Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, had many thanks to give.
“Thank you to all of the citizens, businesses and the local officials who worked hard to advocate for this crucial funding,” Kiffmeyer said. “This is a good start to help improve the flow of traffic, tourism, public safety and shipment of commerce along this congested freeway.”
Minnesota Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, added, “This expansion comes after years of work by many strong, local leaders who advocated on behalf of hardworking families and business owners of the northwest suburbs who need a freeway that meets their real needs.”
Minnesota Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, said he was “thrilled” that MnDOT now recognizes that expanding the freeway is critical for the economic and safety needs of the state.
“For months, I have been working with my colleagues in the Legislature – as well as with businesses and civic leaders from our community – to put pressure on the Department of Transportation to make I-94 expansion a priority,” FitzSimmons said. “I’m grateful the administration is finally acknowledging that creating more lanes is the best way to keep our commuter and commercial traffic secure and safe.”
Enacted during the 2013 legislative session, the Corridors of Commerce program authorizes trunk highway bonding to be used for projects that are not already in the state’s four-year State Transportation Improvement Program. The legislation established two major goals for the program: to increase highway capacity on segments where bottlenecks occur and to improve the movement of freight and reduce barriers to commerce.
More information about the projects can be found at www.mndot.gov/corridorsofcommerce.