Highways, bike trails and rails are 'shovel-ready' in Minn.by Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
Money from a promised federal stimulus package ranging from $800 to $900 billion is but a gleam in the eye of Minnesota's transportation boosters. However, their wish list is very real. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has handed members of Congress a giant job-jar of road, bridge, transit and trail projects totaling almost a billion dollars. MnDOT says the projects are ready or nearly ready to go when and if the feds turn the knob on the stimulus tap.
St. Paul, Minn. — Frozen rock solid ground here on the tundra we call Minnesota does not seem ready for construction.
However, Congress and the president are likely a ways away from agreement on a stimulus package. If the stimulus is approved by end of February, contracts for construction might not be let for some weeks closer to the spring thaw.
The agency has identified dozens of projects that are mostly ready to go, says MnDOT engineer Jon Chiglo. The biggest one is a plain, old-fashioned freeway in the northwest Twin Cities suburbs.
"Extending the 610 corridor out to county road 81, another five miles of that corridor," Chiglo said.
The price tag on the brand new five-mile ribbon of concrete is $86 million.
Up north there's the long awaited improvement of highway 53 from Duluth to International Falls at a cost of about $22 million.
Some of the tasks cost much less.
There are repairs, upgrades and improvements to roadside rest areas, and, Chiglo said, the planting of trees and bushes for living snow fences.
"They're used to help with drifting snow and blowing snow along our roadways, they're a long-term maintenance approach to help us address our winter conditions," he said.
Rail huggers would be in line for some stimulus as part of the MnDOT wish list. There's a longstanding bottle neck in a northwestern Twin Cities rail yard, according to Anoka County public services director Jon Olson.
Adding a third set of tracks at a cost of about $60 million to two already there, Olson said, would help move freight and rail commuters and also future travelers on a proposed Twin Cities Duluth rail service.
"It would make it much easier to operate Northstar, it would allow capacity for the Northern Lights Express that we're working on and it would benefit all freight rail in the north metro area," Olson said.
Bikers and hikers have not been left out. Minnesota's transportation stimulus wish list includes $48 million for trails. Paul Bunyan, Shooting Star, Forestville, Casey Jones, Gitchi Gami and miles of other iconically named trails would be created or improved.
Some of the routes are pretty old, said Beth Coleman, executive director of the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota.
"That's why some of these need work," she said. "Some of the ones that were done way back when need widening and have some issues that need to be taken care of."
The total cost of Minnesota's transportation to-do list is much more than what may actually come in. The wishlist would cost about $930 million. The agency is hearing a range of predictions for transportation stimulus money, according to MnDOT's Jon Chiglo.
"We're looking at between $480 and $560 million and that would be distributed between our local partners and MnDOT," he said.
Whatever federal money gushes down the floodway when the gates are opened, Chiglo estimates about 70 percent will go to MnDOT, about 30 percent to counties and cities.
The prediction is the road, bridge, rail, trail and transit projects would employ well over 12,000 workers with economic ripple effects extending to businesses that supply materials.
Until all or any of that happens it's a waiting game as people wait for Congress to act and for the thaw to arrive.
- Morning Edition, 02/06/2009, 7:25 a.m.