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Planes, trains and automobiles

Published (5/25/2012)
By Mike Cook
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A merging of two omnibus bills has resulted in one new transportation law.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) and Sen. Joe Gimse (R-Willmar), the law includes provisions from both the 2012 policy bill and the 2011 version that was awaiting action in the Senate when the 2011 session concluded.

“We have a very good (law), I believe,” Gimse said.

“Although not perfect … it moves transportation forward,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls).

All provisions are effective Aug. 1, 2012, unless otherwise noted.

The Departments of Transportation and Employment and Economic Development are to conduct a freight rail economic development study.

“We have over 20 railroads in this state that move over 235 million tons of freight each year. For many manufacturers they’re a vital link to the customers around the country and around the world,” Beard said earlier in the session. “I believe a study can help us identify some other opportunities, some things that are hazards that we may want to avoid in the future and help us create more jobs.”

The law establishes a temporary program whereby MnDOT can enter into contracts with a construction manager/general contractor for parts of construction project administration. This section is effective May 11, 2012, and expires one year following the acceptance of 10 construction manager/general contractor contracts.

Supporters said the efficient project delivery method — best used on unique and challenging projects for which MnDOT personnel may not have the expertise — is considered a hybrid of design-bid-build, which is the majority of MnDOT contracts, and design-build, for which the department was given authority in 2001. According to a department fact sheet, “During the design stage, the CM/GC assists the owner with developing the project scope to meet the budget, optimizing the design to reduce costs, and improve quality through innovation. When the design is nearing completion, the contractor and owner enter into a negotiated construction contract.”

One of the more controversial parts of the law will prevent speed limit violations of up to 10 mph over the limit in both 55 mph and 60 mph zones from going on a driver’s record. Currently, a ticket does not appear on someone’s driving record if the person was driving up to 10 mph over the speed limit in a 55 mph zone, or 5 mph over the limit in a 60 mph zone. The change is only effective until Aug. 1, 2014, after which point the cut-off for violations in a 60 mph zone will revert back to being up to 5 mph over the limit. A report on the impacts of the change is due the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2015.

Other provisions in the law include:

• treating electric-assisted bicycles more like pedal-powered bikes, including no longer requiring registration with the state, eliminating a license or permit requirement and preventing prohibition of e-bikes on any state or local trail where bikes are allowed, unless there is a safety issue;

• authorizing bicycles to be equipped with studded tires for better traction in snowy or icy conditions, and allowing bikes to have forward-facing white flashing lights;

• allowing payment of driver’s license and identification card fees by credit or debit card, and authorizing driver’s license agents to impose a convenience fee;

• broadening a “first haul” exception to vehicles that exceed weight limits by no more than 10 percent and are performing the first transport of unprocessed farm products or unrefined forest products to a location within 100 miles;

• MnDOT can issue, effective May 11, 2012, a variance for licensing a public seaplane on Flekkefjord Lake, which abuts the Elbow Lake Municipal Airport; and

• funds granted for land acquisition purposes for the Highway 23 bypass project may instead be used as the state’s share of funds for airport improvements and other aeronautical purposes at the Paynesville airport.

The law provides for $17.5 million in trunk highway fund appropriations for five projects: $7.5 million to construct a maintenance facility addition at the Willmar district headquarters building and a remodeling of the current building; $5.6 million for a new truck station and bridge crew building in Plymouth; $3.3 million to construct a truck station facility in Cambridge; $1.1 million for additions to the existing truck station buildings in Crookston, Eden Prairie and Mendota; and $30,000 to modify a permit system that allows MnDOT to collect registration taxes for overweight vehicles being re-registered at a higher weight classification. This section is effective May 11, 2012.

Also effective that day, $16.1 million from bond proceeds in the trunk highway fund will go to construct a Rochester maintenance facility and remodel the existing district headquarters.

Not included in the law was that in the event of a government shutdown, construction projects funded with constitutionally dedicated trunk highway funds could continue. “The governor vehemently opposed this provision and encouraged us to find a test case so that the courts could settle it,” Beard said.

HF2685*/ SF2321/CH287

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