Federal money to fund Minn. highway improvements


The governor and MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel said 60 state highway projects will get rolling as early as May of this year.

"We believe just in greater Minnesota alone, there will be 5,000 jobs created or saved," said Pawlenty.

He added that a list of highway projects in the metro area will be announced in a few weeks. Pawlenty says MnDOT split the $360 million available for transportation infrastructure evenly between the two regions.

MnDOT commissioner
MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel and Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced today a list of 60 highway projects that will be funded this year because of the federal stimulus package.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Overall, the federal government will send the state government $4.1 billion in stimulus money.

Most of the transportation money from the stimulus package will go toward small projects like repaving, bridge painting and snow fencing.

Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel says MnDOT outlined several criteria for these projects. One requirement was that each project was "shovel ready."

"We wanted statewide representation in this program. We didn't want to focus on one area of the state," said Sorel. "The purpose is to create jobs. And lastly, we wanted a work type balance in our program. We wanted to have work types out there that could effectively engage in all elements of our industry, so we didn't have one type of work going on at the expense of another."

In southeastern Minnesota, portions of Interstate 90 will be milled and repaved. In central Minnesota, several bridges on I-94 will be redecked. North of Duluth on Highway 53, MnDOT will spend $18 million on an overlay project. Upgrades will also be done on Highway 169 near Mille Lacs.

Margaret Donahue, executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, says MnDOT did a good job balancing the types and locations of projects.

But Donahue says this money is only a one-time shot in the arm. When the projects are completed, the jobs will go away.

"Congress needs to pass a new six-year surface transportation authorization act, as the current one will expire in September 2009. That is a very big issue for Minnesota because we need that stable, reliable federal funding to keep our state highway projects on track," said Donahue.

More federal dollars for transportation could be on the way. U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., says a federal spending bill would put $2.3 million toward construction on Highway 14 in southern Minnesota. That bill still has to pass the U.S. Senate.

Despite the fact that Pawlenty spent the day flying around Minnesota to announce these stimulus projects, he's been highly critical of President Obama's stimulus package. Minnesota House Majority Leader, DFLer Tony Sertich, says Pawlenty is trying to take credit for a bill he opposed.

"It's also ironic coming from a governor who has vetoed state transportation funding for the past three times he has had the opportunity, to now take credit for funding he's had no hand in producing," said Sertich. "Really we should be thankful, and the people who should be going across the state, are our Congressional delegation."

Pawlenty says these transportation projects are consistent with the types of stimulus projects he wanted to see more of in the federal package.

"I suggested that the bill could have been improved by making that part of the bill even bigger. So our support and excitement and encouragement of these kinds of projects is what I thought would be a good stimulus approach for the economy," said Pawlenty.

MnDOT expects to select contractors for these construction projects by March 13.