For decades, the volume of traffic along Interstate 94
between the Twin Cities metro area and St. Cloud has been increasing at a
significant rate and the goal for the last 20 years has been to expand the
freeway from two lanes in each direction to three lanes.
While there has been a lot of progress made in recent
years to expand I-94 from Monticello to Clearwater (construction has begun with
site preparation currently underway), there remains one segment of the road
that will remain an island – the section between Monticello and Albertville.
Wright County Commissioner Mike Potter said that hopes
of getting that segment of road funded through the federal BUILD (Better Utilizing
Investments to Leverage Development) program suffered a setback in this year’s federal
project funding. It didn’t get named a finalist for funding, which will leave
the Albertville-to-Monticello portion standing alone in between other segments
that are being widened to three lanes.
“We got Corridors of Commerce money to get the segment
from St. Michael to Albertville done and we got other supplemental money to do
the segment from Monticello to Clearwater,” Potter said. “The missing piece is
from Monticello to Albertville. We applied for the BUILD grant, but we didn’t
make it to the finals for various reasons.”
Potter said that those behind the project are getting
creative in hopes of the getting the section completed by breaking it into two
The cost estimates for the Albertville-to-Monticello
segment is approximately $70 million. The next proposal will divide it in two,
creating a pair of separate projects. The thought is that, by doing the
westbound portion as a stand-alone project, it might make it more palatable for
the state and federal government to get the project completed at some point.
“There’s talk about the part between Monticello and
Albertville being cut it in half and just doing the westbound portion this time
and then doing the eastbound part at a later time,” Potter said. “The funding mechanism
is where the hang up is now.”
Potter said that the odds of getting funding for half
of the project would greatly increase because of the reduced cost. In turn,
once half of the project is completed, the likelihood of getting the final
piece of the puzzle to fit would also increase.
He added that the westbound portion of the project
being done first makes sense because of the prioritization given to increasing
traffic flow away from metropolitan areas.
“My opinion is that, if we can get half of that, it’s
better than nothing,” Potter said. “Doing the westbound portion matches the
mantra of not only the federal guidelines, but the state guidelines. They want
to have the flow (of traffic) going out of the metro to go smoother instead of
having a bottleneck back into the metro. If it’s flowing out of the metro
faster, it’s helping.”
Potter said the plan is to move forward with proposing
half of the original project at a projected cost of about $35 million. It has
the support of Congressman Tom Emmer, who will be pushing for the revised I-94
project to be part of the next funding cycle. As a full project, it didn’t
garner the broad support that was needed, but Potter is hopeful that taking a
new approach will bring a different result.
“It’s looking promising,” Potter said. “Congressman
Emmer has been instrumental and getting this to the forefront. Hopefully there
will be good news to come on that.”