by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Highway project advocates brought treats and otherwise were on their best behavior while appearing before the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee this week (Feb. 13).
“It’s Show-and-Tell Day,” Committee Chairman Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said of the list of supplicants hawking projects to the committee.
Local transportation advocates confront a state transportation funding conundrum not known for oozing dollars.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in his proposed state budget slates $20 million in ongoing funding to the Transportation Economic Development (TED) Program, and seeks $338 million in federal funding over the biennium.
But projects presented to the transportation committee, with likely more to come, gobble up funding with gusto.
A proposed upgrade of Hwy. 14 in southern Minnesota into a four-lane divided highway alone seeks $431 million.
The governor’s high-profile regional sales tax proposal is dedicated to transit, not highways.
But local transportation advocates were smiling, prepared, hopeful.
“These are all worthwhile proposals — absolutely,” Dibble said.
The lineup of legislative “big guns” — former Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg, former state representative Kathy Tingelstad — associated with a $17 million funding bid by Anoka County, the City of Ramsey, and other local officials caught the attention of transportation committee members.
“Wow,” Dibble said.
The Anoka County contingent seeks to upgrade the busy intersection of Hwy. 10 and Armstrong Boulevard in the City of Ramsey.
“It’s one of the most dangerous intersections in the state,” said freshman Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover.
The intersection ranks 104th in the state in terms of highest crash costs, according to advocates.
The local officials, in a sleek presentation including video showing the existing highway as a liability in terms of speedy emergency response, depicted the intersection as peculiar in layout and strategic in importance.
Anoka County Engineer Douglas Fischer described the Hwy. 10 corridor as having a railroad track just 45-feet away on one side, the Mississippi River on the other, with the highway needling through the middle.
Local officials, including Ramsey Mayor Sarah Strommen and Council Member Jason Tossey, pointed out the multi-modal implications as the intersection as its located a half-mile from a new Northstar Commuter Line rail station.
The region is growing, they argued,
Travels speeds through the corridor, already generally below posted speed limits, are expected to further drop.
Petersen in his legislation asks for bonding dollars, but with smiles the local officials quipped they’d be willing to take the $17 million in any form.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $35 million, with the county and City of Ramsey contributing about $4 million apiece, the federal government $10 million.
As with all the bills, no votes were taken by the committee, the proposals placed aside for possible inclusion into a larger bill.
Other senators and mayors made their pitches.
Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, and Plymouth Mayor Kelli Slavik appealed for $50 million in bonding to add a third-lane on I-494 from Hwy. 55 to the bridge over East Fish Lake Road.
A proposed project would construct a new travel lane on the inside shoulder of north and southbound 494 from I-394 to the East Fish Lake Road overpass, affecting the cities of Minnetonka, Plymouth, and Maple Grove.
The quest for a third lane ranks high on Bonoff’s list of legislative priorities.
“I think that would be a valid question to be asked,” she said of spending a little more to get a longer-lived solution.
Slavik sounded the drum of fairness.
The City of Plymouth, she argued, receives scant benefit from the proposed Bottineau Boulevard Transitway or other high-profile transportation projects in the region.
“That’s all we have,” Slavik said of wanting that third lane.
Because of congestion on I-494, motorists are fleeing to Plymouth city streets, wearing then out, driving up cost, Slavik said.
“We just want to do the project right,” she said.
She was glad, Slavik quipped, the committee hearing was taking place when it was.
That’s because it allowed her to get home without getting trapped in congestion on I-494.
Sen. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, brought two bills and treats to the committee — unofficial committee decorum encourages new senators to provide a treat, she noted — in another bid for funding.
In the smaller bill, Scalze looks for $2 million for Ramsey County for environmental and design work for the interchange of Rice Street and I-694.
She is also hunting for 35 million in economic development dollars for roadwork in the vicinity of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant — the rejected spot for the Vikings stadium.
In general discussion, local officials, who included Ramsey County Commissioner Mary Jo Maguire, argued recent highway improvements have facilitated traffic flow.
“But you can’t get under the (Rice Street) bridge,” Scalze said.
100,000 vehicles a day are trying to squeeze through, she explained.
Scalze included among supporting material a letter dating from 1999 detailing discussions between Ramsey County and MnDOT on the Rice Street bridge as proof of delay.
That letter was sent over a decade age, the advocates noted.
Speaking after the hearing, Dibble said transportation dollars aren’t plentiful.
“The demand is greater than the available resources,” he said.
“The simple matter of fact is, there isn’t even close to enough money,” Dibble said.
Dibble would not support changing the proposed regional transit sales tax to include highways.
But he argued other sources of highway, such as bonding, might be available.
Tim Budig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org