MARSHALL - On Nov. 1, Charles Zelle, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, made a stop in Marshall and spoke about the funding challenges facing groups all over Minnesota trying to improve the state's infrastructure.
Zelle was spreading the word about the importance of addressing the state's roads and bridges and said there will be a $50 billion gap between available funding and what is needed to improve and maintain transportation infrastructure. On Thursday, local officials received some good news on that front.
Gov. Mark Dayton and MnDOT announced Thursday that 10 highway construction projects will receive funding through the state's new $300 million Corridors of Commerce program. One of those projects, the Minnesota Highway 23 corridor from Willmar to Interstate 90, will receive between $13 million and $19 million for passing lane projects.
"It's thrilling news for anybody who travels in our region," said David Sturrock, chairman of the Marshall Area Transportation Group. "It will make 23 safer in terms of creating passing lanes and also some median safety structures with some new designs - innovative stuff MnDOT was able to learn about from outside Minnesota."
In its bid to secure funding, local transportation officials said the passing lanes will enhance highway safety by reducing pressure for traffic to make high-risk passes, encourage commercial traffic to use the corridor instead of seeking a longer route, provide opportunities to pass slower traffic and increase the predictability of travel time for the corridor.
"This grant is extremely important for safety and traffic flow across southwest Minnesota and also supports our long-term goal of four lanes along Highway 23," said Sturrock.
"It's a very good announcement," Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes said. "It recognizes the importance of Highway 23 as an interregional corridor, it recognizes the importance of transporting freight, which is important for the economic activity of the region, and it also recognizes the work our transportation group that, through the Chamber, has been doing for a number of years."
Construction on the Highway 23 project, Sturrock said, is projected to begin in 2016.
Sturrock said although Marshall's is one of the smaller projects chosen to receive funding, it was good to see greater Minnesota gets it share considering the competition for the dollars. There were more than 400 proposals submitted related to 100 unique road projects. Sturrock said of the 10 projects, seven are in greater Minnesota, including three in the southern portion of the state.
"We were cautiously optimistic," Sturrock said of landing funding. "We were given encouragement from MnDOT that ours was a very promising proposal. It's a nice distribution (of funding)."
Transportation improvements include the addition of lanes, bypasses and shoulders to essential travel corridors in the state, MnDOT said, including Interstate 94 between Rogers and St. Michael, U.S. Highway 14 in southern Minnesota, and Minnesota Highway 34 between Detroit Lakes and Nevis. The bonding authority is effective July 1, 2014, with five projects scheduled to start in 2014, three in 2015 and two in 2016.
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.