House, Senate introduce transportation bills

The Minnesota House and Senate Republicans introduced their 10-year comprehensive transportation funding bills this week. Neither plan raises the gas tax; both re-direct general fund money for transportation.

The Senate bill (SF 1060, as amended) appropriates $325 million trunk highway bonds for the Corridors of Commerce program. Of that, $200 million goes to the Corridors of Commerce program in general. $90 million is “earmarked” for the Owatonna to Dodge Center two-lane section of Highway 14.

The House bill (HF 861, as amended) appropriates $300 million for the Corridors of Commerce program.

The Highway 14 Expansion Project and Corridors of Commerce

The U.S. Highway 14 Partnership supports funding the Corridors of Commerce program. The project consists of two remaining sections of Highway 14: 12 miles from New Ulm to Nicollet (estimated cost range: $69 million to $117 million) and 12.5 miles from Owatonna to Dodge Center (estimated cost range: $152 million to $193 million).

Corridors of Commerce is a highway expansion program that provides a pool of money which then gets parceled out according to an application process, split approximately 50% for the Metro and 50% for Greater Minnesota. In the past, it has funded portions of Highway 14. For technical reasons, Corridors of Commerce needs cash to fund preliminary costs like land acquisition, engineering and environmental work. Bond proceeds can only be used for construction. So, since Highway 14 still needs land acquisition and engineering work, Corridors of Commerce only works if part of its funds are cash, not bond proceeds.

Impact of the two bills on Highway 14

Despite the earmark language in the Senate bill, neither the House nor the Senate bill provides a pathway to completing either section of Highway 14. Neither bill appropriates cash for land acquisition or engineering. The bills only provide bonding money for Corridors of Commerce. Even if that money could be used for Highway 14, it is too little to complete either section if this is all that is appropriated in the next 10 years.

Both bills also contain policy language changing the project selection process for Corridors of Commerce. These changes increase transparency of MnDOT’s process, but do not seem to affect the chances of Highway 14 receiving funding under this program.

What’s Next?

We plan on raising these issues with both the House and the Senate transportation committees. We will send you an action alert very soon with actions you can take to contact the Legislature.

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