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Roadwork ahead: $1.1B in projects announced

Brian Johnson//April 4, 2014

Roadwork ahead: $1.1B in projects announced

Brian Johnson//April 4, 2014

Minnesota Department of Transportation officials have good news for motorists who are weary of driving on bad pavements and for contractors who work on roads and bridges.

The message: Help is on the way in the form of a $1.1 billion 2014 construction program, unveiled Thursday. The program covers more than 300 projects across Minnesota.

Gov. Mark Dayton said in a MnDOT press release that the projects “will support Minnesota’s growing economy, improve our quality of life and create thousands of good-paying jobs all over our state.”

It may be a short-lived celebration.

The program compares favorably with recent years, including last year’s $1.1 billion effort, but transportation officials warn that future investments — starting in 2016 — won’t be as strong if additional funding for roads and bridges doesn’t come through.

“Next year should also be a similar-sized program, but after that it drops off quite a bit,” said MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht. “We have some funding challenges, no question.”

MnDOT says it expects to receive about $1.205 billion in road and bridge construction funding for 2015, including $836 million from the regular state and federal programs and $369 million in special investments, such as the Corridors of Commerce program introduced last year.

Based on current expectations, those numbers drop to $706 million in 2016 ($627 million in regular programs, $79 million in additional funding) and $757 million in 2017 ($673 in regular funding, $84 million in additional spending), according to MnDOT.

The $1.1 billion investment for 2014 is “a good thing, but we need to have much more resources than that for the future,” Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee, said in an interview.

“We need more resources in the system for roads, bridges and urban transit.”

House and Senate transportation committees have approved bills that would generate new transportation revenue with dedicated funding from sales taxes on leased vehicles, a wholesale gas sales tax, and a metro-wide sales tax.

But the package faces a tough road in the Legislature and its chances of success are not good, as previously reported.

Similar funding challenges loom at the federal level.

Margaret Donahoe, executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, said the 2014 construction season puts a lot of resources into projects that will put people to work.

Still, most of the 2014 program is geared toward maintenance projects, with few new projects outside the $300 million Corridors of Commerce program that add capacity, Donahoe noted.

“There are not a lot of big projects in the $100 million, $200 million, $300 million range,” she said. “There are a lot of very small projects on this list, and the vast majority of it really is resurfacing, reconstruction, redoing the system that is out there.”

The 2014 program includes carry-over projects from previous years and new projects to start this season. But the $1.1 billion figure includes only the 2014 spending, Gutknecht said.

Gutknecht added that it’s construction-only cost, so it doesn’t include land acquisition and design and pre-design work.

The Legislature is considering a special $15 million allocation for pothole repair, above and beyond the 2014 program.

Gutknecht said there’s a “significant bumper crop of potholes this year,” stemming from a combination of lots of snow, very cold temperatures and freeze-thaw conditions.

MnDOT fixes potholes as part of its maintenance budget, which is separate from the construction programs like the one announced Thursday, he said.

At the same time, he said, the construction program includes numerous resurfacing and reconstruction projects that could be seen as pothole prevention projects because they eliminate pavement cracks, which are a cause of potholes.

The to-do list includes 74 projects in the Twin Cities and 194 outside the metro area. Also included are 40 projects statewide to improve safety at railroad crossings and to update runways and terminals at regional airports, according to MnDOT.

Metro area projects of note include:

  • Ongoing work on the $98.6 million I-35E MnPASS project. The project includes $32.8 million worth of construction in 2014. Plans for this year include express lane construction, bridge and pavement improvements and other work between I-94 and Little Canada Road.
  • New bridges and widening of Highway 100 from 36th Street to Cedar Lake Road in St. Louis Park. The $46.8 million project will begin in August and end in November 2016. About $6 million worth of work is scheduled for 2014.
  • The $112 million Highway 610 project. Construction starts this fall and runs through fall 2017. The 2014 cost is $6.5 million.
  • Continued work on the St. Croix Crossing between Oak Park Heights and St. Joseph, Wis. The 2014 season will see $238 million worth of construction on the project, including MnDOT’s $140 million share.
  • Greater Minnesota projects include:
  • New lanes for I-94 from Rogers to St. Michael. The project is expected to cost between $32 million and $37 million, with construction beginning in July and ending in October 2015.
  • Reconstruction and bridge replacement on I-35 in Owatonna. The $19.1 million project will begin in May and end in November 2015. The expected 2014 cost is $14 million.
  • Highway 29 reconstruction in downtown Alexandria. The $5.5 million project will begin in May and end in October.
  • New passing lanes for Highway 34 from Detroit Lakes to Nevis. The $10 million project will begin in August and end in October 2015.

MnDOT’s complete list of projects is available here.

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