Wright County Commissioner Mike Potter has been spending
a good portion of the last two weeks between Wright County and the State Capitol
in St. Paul. One of the proposals he is trying to shine a light on is bonding
for the beginning stages of a proposed expansion of Highway 55.
Potter, who serves on the Highway 55 Corridor Coalition,
said the organization is looking to secure $5 million in state bonding for
preliminary design of the expansion, final design, right-of-way acquisition and
Highway 55 Corridor Coalition activities.
The coalition represents the stretch of Highway 55
from Highway 169 in Plymouth to Annandale. The area the coalition is seeking
bonding for is from Medina to Loretto in Hennepin County and would expand the
road from two lanes to four. Even though the construction wouldn’t include an
expansion in Wright County, Potter said it will be a significant improvement
for Wright County residents.
“The construction we’re looking at won’t involve the
portion of Highway 55 that runs through Wright County, but it will be important
to us,” Potter said. “There are a lot of our residents that work in the Twin
Cities and use Highway 55 to get to and from work. If we can get that stretch
expanded to two lanes in each direction, it will increase the flow of traffic
considerably. There won’t be any construction in Wright County, but it benefits
us a lot.”
The Highway 55 Corridor Coalition was hoping to get
the funding for the preliminary work a couple of years ago, but, after several
deaths on a dangerous portion of Highway 12 pushed it to the top of the list
for road reconstruction, the 55 coalition voluntarily took a back seat in hopes
that something could get done this year or next.
Earlier this month, Potter presented an information
packet laying out the details of the project to both Minnesota Department of
Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher, as well as former MnDOT
Commissioner Charles Zelle, who is now the chairman of the Met Council. The
plan calls for $750,000 in preliminary design, $1.5 million for the final
design, right-of-way acquisition at $2.25 million and $500,000 for coalition
The goal of getting the bonding for the initial work
done now is that the standard practice is to award state and federal highway
dollars to projects that are to the point where all the pre-construction work
has been completed and is ready to go quickly when approval comes.
“What the $5 million would accomplish is to show that,
when federal funding is available for the expansion of Highway 55, we’ll be shovel-ready
– ready to go,” Potter said. “When the feds decide to do something, they always
pick the shovel-ready jobs first because they can tell their constituents that
they got this approved, everyone can see the results immediately when the construction
begins and they can get their photo ops done.”
Initially, getting funding for Highway 55 was met with
significant opposition, including Hennepin County and the Met Council. Potter
said it has taken time, but, with proposals of running Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along
Highway 55, the Medina-to-Loretto project is “finally seeing the light of day”
and now has the support of several powerful groups that were once opposed to
the Highway 55 project.
The hope is that, when the project is finally
completed, the BRT will be able to partner with Trailblazer Transit, which can
provide rides to commuters from Wright County to Loretto and back and could
potentially link all of Wright County to the BRT system in the Twin Cities.
Potter knows that getting the $5 million in funding
will be difficult in this year’s session. He pointed out that 2020 is a bonding
year, an election year and a short session for the State Legislature – all things
that can be roadblocks for passage this year. The coalition is looking for bill
sponsors to get a hearing in early March, but Potter admitted a lot of times
the process takes a year or two to accomplish – getting it “front of mind” by
presenting it one year in hopes of getting funding the next.
From where this project was just a couple of years to
where it is now, the change has been pronounced. Detractors have become
advocates. Opposing coalitions have become partners. It is that creation of alliances
that has Potter optimistic about the future of the project getting state or
federal funding to be completed.
“This will get done at some point and it will have a
long-term benefit for Wright County,” Potter said. “The wheels of politics move
slower than I would like down in St. Paul. It’s how they do business. But, the
important thing is to get our foot in the door and that’s what we’re doing now.”