Rep. Michelle Bachmann's responses to written questions regarding the Northstar commuter rail line.
MPR: Do you still oppose the expansion of the Northstar commuter rail line from Big Lake to St. Cloud? If so, why do you still oppose it, particularly when this project has bi-partisan support and the majority of your constituents strongly support it, too?
Bachmann: From the very beginning, I made a commitment to only submit transportation authorization projects that had made it through the state and local vetting process. A lot of local and state officials voice strong support for Northstar, but the project hasn't made it onto any of the official lists of priority projects: the Minnesota Department of Transportation's State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP), Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) or Long Range Plan. It wasn't on the St. Cloud Area Planning Organization's (APO) list of priorities -- and they are the region's primary transportation planning group. I believe in a transparent and open process that meets the needs of my constituents -- all my constituents, and I won't circumvent a process based on merit with one based on politics.
MPR: Local elected officials anticipate you will change your mind and support this project. Is there anything that will change your mind? One local elected official thinks you will eventually come around and also support an application for a grant by the Federal Rail Administration, which would provide an 80-20 match. Have you had any meetings with Felix Schmiesing or other working on the project about this potential grant opportunity? If so, would you support a grant versus an earmark to make this project happen?
Bachmann: I've spoken with Felix and others who are vocal supporters of Northstar. And, I'm working with him and others on their separate grant proposals to the Federal Rail Administration and other federal transit grant programs. I am committed to giving local officials every opportunity to make their case if they want to apply for federal grant funding.
But, with regard to the transportation authorization bill, Northstar hasn't made it onto any of the state or local lists of priority projects. Each of the five projects I submitted for the transportation authorization bill made it through this local vetting process and onto these priority lists. In fact, two of the projects I submitted were the St. Cloud APO's number one and number two priority projects.
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MPR: If you have changed your mind and you now do support this project, tell me about what changed your mind. Why do you support it now? What are you going to do as congresswoman to ensure this project happens?
Bachmann: (no response)
MPR: What transportation projects in your district are you currently supporting?
Bachmann: There are many meritorious projects in Minnesota's Sixth District. I have submitted 5 High-Priority Project requests for those of the highest priority for the District. All of these projects have been fully vetted at the local and state level, with public input. All of them are listed on the Minnesota Department of Transportation's State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP), Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) or Long Range Plan. And, two of them are the number one and number two priority projects for the St. Cloud APO.
St. Croix River Crossing Project in Stillwater and Oak Park Heights: $21.1 million for construction of a new four-lane bridge across the St. Croix River at Oak Park Heights. This phase includes Highway 36 reconstruction, the Oakgreen/Greeley and Osgood intersections and the north and south frontage roads in Stillwater and Oak Park Heights. Work would be on the west end of the St. Croix Crossing Project on the Minnesota Approach. Congestion and crashes will be reduced by improving the existing four-lane facility and intersections, multiple jobs will result from construction of the project, and its completion will make the area more attractive to current and future employers. Minnesota and Wisconsin are each responsible for their respective approach roadway improvements in each state and are splitting the cost of the river bridge 50/50.
TH 15/33rd Street South Interchange ROW and Construction in St. Cloud and Waite Park: (APO's 1st Priority): $6.4 million to purchase right-of-way and construct TH 15/33rd Street South interchange in the Cities of St. Cloud and Waite Park. The interchange project is part of an overall plan for a future beltway around the St. Cloud Metropolitan Area. This project will provide access to existing33rd Street South, which is planned for expansion to 4 lanes from TH 15 to Stearns CSAH 75. The project will minimize crashes and fatalities and provide south St. Cloud access to TH 15 to relieve the currently congested Stearns CSAH 75/2nd Street South.
Highway 55 Preservation Project in Wright County and Hennepin County: $6 million to allow for additional environmental documentation, engineering, corridor preservation through right-of-way acquisition, and spot safety improvements. The overall project is to upgrade Highway 55 to a 4-lane divided design from I-494 in Hennepin County to the western city limits of Annandale in Wright County.
I-94 Auxiliary Lanes in Hennepin County and Wright County: $6.25 million for final design engineering, right-of-way acquisition, and construction of a westbound auxiliary lane on I-94 from TH 101 to NW of Lebeaux Ave. An auxiliary lane will allow vehicles to leave the heavily traveled through lanes sooner than they do today. The slower moving, exiting vehicles would have a safer place to decelerate in anticipation of the upcoming exit. This is critical since the TH 101 interchange is currently a major bottleneck with very heavy traffic volumes exiting and entering I-94. The auxiliary lane will also provide sufficient distance for entering vehicles to accelerate and merge into the heavy traffic streams on I-94.
University Drive Bridge Expansion, City of St. Cloud, Stearns County and Sherburne County: (APO's 2nd Priority): $500,000 to expand the existing University Drive Bridge deck from 2 lanes to 4 lanes. The project will provide needed additional capacity to the University Drive Bridge, which currently carries approximately 22,000 vehicles per day and is forecasted to carry approximately 43,000 vehicles per day in the year 2030. The University Drive Bridge is also critical parallel corridor to address traffic needs along TH 23/Division Street. The overall project involves expansion of University Drive to 4 lanes from 5th Avenue South to TH 10, including an expanded University Drive Bridge and grade separated interchange at TH 10.