State officials highlight congestion, push for transportation funding

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith
Lt. Governor Tina Smith speaks on the overpass near the interchange of Interstates 494 and 35W, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015.
Jon Collins | MPR News

As commuters forged through early morning congestion, top state officials used the vantage point of an overpass south of downtown Minneapolis Tuesday to push for the governor's $6 billion transportation proposal.

Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a revamp of the interchange at Interstates 494 and 35W if the Legislature agrees to fund it. The bottleneck, among the state's most congested, carries about 290,000 cars on an average day, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Commissioner Charles Zelle said the first phase of the interchange reconstruction would cost about $75 million.

"This is really critical for employees getting to their jobs, for freight shipments coming through this artery," Zelle said. "If we do nothing, I assure you that traffic will do worse."

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MnDOT estimates the number of state roads in poor condition will increase by 75 percent by 2025 if no changes are made. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said the DFL governor's plan would fund fixes for hundreds of roads and bridges across the state over the next decade.

"We can either continue to live with this traffic, this lost time and money, or we can do something about it," Smith said. "It's not complicated, but we have to get real about what it's going to cost to do something about it."

Dayton has proposed an investment of about $2.35 billion for transportation projects in the Twin Cities metro.

The reconstruction of 494 and 35W would add a so-called "turbine interchange" between the interstates to eliminate the short merging areas from busy freeway on-ramps. MnDOT doesn't yet have a cost estimate for the total project.

In a bid to reduce congestion, the governor's proposed transit spending would help pay for an Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit stop near the interchange. It would also add a MnPASS lane on either Interstate 94 or Highway 62, which would be available to buses, carpoolers or drivers who pay a fee.

Dayton's transportation plan lists 600 state road and bridge projects funded through increases in the wholesale tax on gasoline and vehicle registration fees.

State House Republicans oppose Dayton's plan. They've proposed a more limited $750 million road repair plan paid for by the state's expected surplus and cuts at MnDOT.