May 1st was a day many seeking highway improvement funding eagerly anticipated. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) had $469 million to allocate through its Corridors of Commerce program and at least half of that amount was guaranteed to be spent in rural Minnesota.
Many of us who have fought tirelessly to finish the expansion of Highway 14 had our hopes up. This proved to be a mistake.
Despite 172 projects receiving consideration from all corners of our state, MnDOT chose to distribute all $469 million on a total of four projects, all of which are located within 40 miles of the Metro Area.
What’s most upsetting to me is that MnDOT touted the fact that 50 percent of the funding was used on Greater Minnesota projects. To review, these are the alleged two “rural” projects and the amounts they will receive from Corridors of Commerce: $174 million will be spent in Elk River to convert Highway 169 to a freeway; and $62 million will be spent to create six lanes on Interstate 94 between St. Michael and Albertville.
This was a devastating decision and truly an insult to Greater Minnesota. Worse, the transportation commissioner doesn’t seem to have a problem with the choices. In fact, he’s strongly defending them.
Instead of following the intent of the law which allows the Corridors of Commerce to make a positive impact throughout the entire state, MnDOT chose to justify their decision stating that these two projects are not in the Minneapolis and St. Paul transportation districts and therefore are part of Greater Minnesota.
No rational person would suggest that Albertville and Elk River are “outstate” communities, yet MnDOT made this decision and in doing so has made a mockery of the Corridors of Commerce project selection process.
I am just appalled that projects such as Highway 14 and Highway 23 in western Minnesota were not even legitimately considered by this administration.
Just this week, the Minnesota House approved transportation funding legislation that dedicates an additional $145 million into the Corridors of Commerce. In theory, half of that amount would go to rural Minnesota highway needs. I’m now questioning this decision considering the program isn’t being used as intended.
With roughly three weeks left in session, I will be working to determine if there is anything we can do as state lawmakers to ensure this type of travesty doesn’t happen again. What MnDOT has done to the Corridors of Commerce project selection process is not fair and not right, and I am very disappointed by its Metro-centered actions.