Transportation needs discussed at bonding bill committee meeting

At the Legislature yesterday, the bonding bill conference committee held a hearing on the contents of the failed bonding bill. Staff walked through a version of the bill which the Revisor had cleaned up. Then the chair, Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska), called on the Dayton Administration to present the additional items they would like to see included in the bill. Gov. Dayton has made statements that in order to call a special session, the Legislature would have to include additional items in the bonding bill (non-transportation).

After that, the committee agenda turned to transportation. MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle testified against the inclusion of earmarks in the bonding bill, stating that it sets a “dangerous precedent.” He also cautioned that the transportation money included in the bonding bill addresses only 5% of the State’s current transportation needs.

Regarding U.S. Highway 14, MnDOT argued that the language of the bill does not fit the needs of Highway 14’s expansion. Most significantly, they announce that the New Ulm to Nicollet section needs a re-evaluation of the environmental impact statement. Commissioner Zelle’s full letter can be viewed here.

Then the committee called upon New Ulm Mayor Robert Beussman, as President of the U.S. Highway 14 Partnership, to testify as to the need to expand Highway 14. Mayor Beussman talked about the need for safety and commerce. Furthermore, he testified that spending money on engineering, environmental studies and land acquisition would increase, not diminish, the demand for a comprehensive transportation bill.

Two other highway projects also presented: U.S. Highway 12 in west Hennepin County and U.S. Highway 23 outside Willmar. They presented similar stories of safety and commercial concerns.

Testimony from Met Council Chair Duininck did not answer the question whether the Governor would require funding for the Southwest Light Rail in order to call a special session.

It is unclear where this hearing leaves the status of the bonding bill, in particular, the transportation projects it funds. Because this was a hearing of a conference committee, the gavel shifts to Senate Chair LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Plummer). The Governor is scheduled to meet with legislative leaders Wednesday morning to further discuss a possible special session.

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