Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday announced plans for spending up to $300 million on 10 state highway projects targeted to remove congestion and improve commerce.
The money comes from special borrowing approved by the Legislature last session for removing bottlenecks and paying for other new highway construction.
Dayton used the announcement to renew his pitch for more funding for other transportation projects, but acknowledged that raising taxes to do so could be a tough sell.
“This will … give Minnesotans an idea of what’s possible with an increase in transportation funding,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be possible to do … in 2014. I’m certainly willing to try.”
The projects targeted Thursday include eight in outstate Minnesota and two in the Twin Cities. Work will begin next summer. The biggest involves a new freeway connection on Hwy. 610 between Hwy. 81 and Interstate 94, costing more than $100 million.
The projects were winnowed from a list of 400 recommendations for funding this year from government agencies and citizens. They are part of a new “Corridors of Commerce” program designed to add traffic capacity rather than repair and maintain existing roads, the focus of most transportation funding.
The program won substantial bipartisan support last session. The projects will be financed using the state’s borrowing authority and paid for with existing highway tax revenue rather than increasing taxes.
Legislators from areas where the money will be spent were quick to hail the announcement.
“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,” said David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville. Costing up to $46 million, the project is the second most expensive and the additional lanes are intended to reduce congestion in a heavily used tourism corridor northwest of the Twin Cities.
A plan for making Hwy. 14 four lanes between North Mankato and Nicollet and east of Owatonna was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, who saw it as a step toward expanding the entire highway.
Other projects include a shoulder lane on Interstate 694 from Rice Street to Lexington Avenue that could be used by vehicles on some occasions, and new passing lanes on Hwy. 34 from Detroit Lakes to Nevis.
‘$10 billion short’
Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said factors such as safety, timeliness, travel times and environmental impact were considered in selecting the projects.
Dayton said more money will be needed or the existing system will continue to deteriorate. He said the state “is $10 billion short of what is needed over the next 20 years just to break even.”
The governor stopped short of proposing ways to raise more money. He said a 5-cent gasoline tax increase, which some DFLers favored last session, would bring the state $78 million a year. “That’s not enough to get us where we need to go,” he said.
He said Zelle is working on a financing package to give to the Legislature, but added, “whether or not it’s possible to do that next session remains to be seen.”
Dayton noted that past efforts to raise transportation money have foundered for lack of a coalition of legislators supporting a package that increases funding for both outstate Minnesota and metro transit.