At an Aug. 26 meeting convened by State Rep. Marion O’Neill, Wright County officials have been assured that when the new Wright County Government Center opens early next year, it will include a driver’s testing center from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Driver & Vehicle Services (DVS) division.
Wright County was represented at the meeting by Commissioners Darek Vetsch and Mark Daleiden, Finance Director Lindsey Meyer and License Center Supervisor Jessie Gadach. The state was represented by DPS Commissioner John Harrington, DVS Director of Operations Tony Anderson and DVS Program Supervisor Mark Larson.
Vetsch, who has championed the cause of getting the Buffalo testing station re-opened, including giving testimony before a Legislative committee explaining the plight of Wright County those at the other 80 testing facilities that were shut down in the spring of 2020 during the state’s COVID-19 shutdown and haven’t re-opened. He said the Aug. 26 meeting was an excellent opportunity to have a direct dialogue with the decision-makers at the state level.
“The purpose of this meeting was two-fold,” Vetsch said. “First was to establish a timeline as to when we get testing services back in Buffalo. Second was to establish the level of interest DVS had in partnering with Wright County in our new Government Center. When online testing was closed down earlier this summer, we had a lot of people coming to us looking for testing and were unsatisfied when told their closest options were either Plymouth or St. Cloud.”
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Legislature approved funding to open all 93 testing stations. The most difficult part may be the hiring process, since almost all of the previous testing station employees had to find other work since being closed down for a year-and-a-half. Harrington said there isn’t a hard-and-fast timetable on when testing stations will re-open, but the hope is to have all 93 testing stations up and running by early next year.
“We’re looking to get all of our testing stations re-opened,” Harrington said. “When COVID hit, we looked at re-organizing around the stations that had the most volume and minimize people coming in and out due to COVID restrictions. We started re-opening some stations in July and our plan is to have all stations re-opened by January. Our challenge right now is to get people hired to fill all these positions.”
Vetsch asked the DPS officials to prioritize the re-opening of commercial testing because Trailblazer Transit, which has more than 60 drivers, has been losing out on potential hires because the backlog at the 20 locations currently open in the state is averaging about 60 days – too long for many potential drivers to wait without a job.
The early 2022 timeline fits well for Wright County, which has offered to partner with DPS to house the testing facility in the new Government Center, which is slated to open in January 2022. Vetsch said Wright County residents have exhausted their patience with having to travel to Plymouth or St. Cloud (or farther) to fulfill driver’s testing requirements and being given a guarantee of re-opening will bring an end to the ordeal many families have had to face with closed testing stations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were very appreciative that Representative O’Neill was able to get all of us to the table and having a productive discussion about this,” Vetsch said. “This has been a priority for Wright County ever since our testing station got closed down in the spring of 2020. It has been a long time, so it was very positive to get an assurance from DPS that we will be open in our new Government Center and partnering with DPS to have a permanent home for a driver testing facility in Wright County.”