by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
News the Interstate 94 corridor had snagged Corridors of Commerce funding for additional lanes had advocates celebrating.
“We’re ecstatic,” said Rhonda Baack, president of the I-94 West Chamber of Commerce, as a meeting of coalition leaders broke up. “Absolutely imperative,” Baack said.
Starting next year, the plan should begin to take shape.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle announced Thursday, Nov. 14, that 10 projects were selected to receive funding under Corridors of Commerce, a new program designed to pry open bottlenecks and better speed freight traffic along highway corridors.
Dayton described the projects, to be funded by $300 million in trunk highway bonding, as a taste of what could come should Minnesotans rally around transportation funding.
It’s the “first big step forward,” he said.
Under the proposal, lanes will be added on I-94 from Highway 101 in Rogers west to Highway 241. The additional lanes are estimated to cost $35 million to $46 million.
Efforts to obtain this funding included a meeting a few months ago at the State Capitol with Republican 6th District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, state legislators, local officials and Dayton.
“Expansion of this corridor is vital to Minnesota’s current and future competitiveness,” Bachmann said in a statement.
Other north metro suburban arteries gained coveted funding.
A dynamic shoulder lane — a lane that can be used by buses and cars at peak traffic times — is proposed for construction on I-694 from Rice to Lexington. Estimated between $35 million to $42 million, the shoulder lane project is scheduled to begin in 2015.
But the biggest project, in terms of funding, will be adding freeway to Highway 610 from County Road 81 to I-94. Planned for next year, the freeway project will cost as much as $131 million.
The 10 Corridors of Commerce projects were selected from more than 400 proposals, representing more than 100 highway projects, from around the state. Projects were picked, Zelle said, for timeliness, return on investment and safety considerations.
In recent months Zelle, at the behest of Dayton, has been traveling the state, talking up transportation. He called the $300 million for the 10 projects a “down payment” in terms of overall transportation funding.
It’s estimated MnDOT faces $12 billion in unfunded need during the next 20 years.
“I don’t think the number is scary,” Zelle said this summer. It’s achievable, he said.
Dayton plans to submit a transportation funding proposal to lawmakers next year when the Legislature reconvenes in February.
Besides Bachmann, other lawmakers along the I-94 corridor expressed delight with the new funding.
“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,” Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said.
Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, also expressed satisfaction.
“I’m thrilled that the Department of Transportation is now recognizing that expanding I-94 between Rogers and St. Michael is critical for the economic and safety needs of our state,” he said.
According to the I-94 Coalition – which includes freeway corridor cities such as Maple Grove, Dayton, Rogers, St. Michael, Albertville, Monticello and others – more than 1,500 businesses operate near the I-94 corridor between the metro and St. Cloud.
“This is an excellent start,” Baack said of the additional lanes.
“Adding a new freeway connection from Hennepin County Road 81 to I-94 has been a priority of mine for years,” Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said. “This project will accommodate 50,000 vehicles per day while alleviating traffic between I-94 and I-694. I’m pleased that we are prioritizing our transportation dollars on maintaining and improving our existing roads, bridges and infrastructure.”
For more information about the projects, visit www.mndot.gov/corridorsofcommerce.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected].