West Central Tribune / Carolyn Lange
WILLMAR — It is a busy week for advocates seeking money for the state Highway 23 four-lane project.
On Wednesday, members of the Highway 23 Coalition went to St. Paul to meet with legislators to make the pitch for state funding and today they will meet with two congressmen in Cold Spring to seek federal transportation funding.
The high-profile meetings are part of an aggressive plan the coalition launched to secure money to fill the gaps in the four-lane highway between Willmar and Interstate 94.
There are currently two gaps in the corridor,
including a seven-mile, two-lane stretch of road between New London and Paynesville and a nine-mile stretch between Paynesville and Richmond.
The group is asking for money for both segments, but Aaron Backman, who is on the coalition’s board of directors and is executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, said he would be “very pleased” if they got funding now for at least one of the gaps.
“This won’t be solved in one day,” Backman said during an EDC meeting Thursday. “This is not a one-time process.”
On Wednesday, 20 coalition members boarded a bus to St. Paul for “Transportation Day at the Capitol” and hosted a reception there for about 40 people, including 25 state legislators.
While local legislators know the Highway 23 project request very well, Backman said the goal was to get the message out to legislators who are “less familiar” with Highway 23. “I was very pleased with the turnout,” he said.
While that was going on, four members of the coalition attended a different presentation in St. Paul hosted by the Minnesota Transportation Alliance that also helped strengthen the group’s case for Highway 23 funding.
Today, about 75 members of the coalition are expected to attend the general membership meeting in Cold Spring where U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat from the Seventh Congressional District, will be the keynote speaker.
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican from the Sixth District, is also expected to be at the meeting.
“This will be an opportunity for us to listen to what’s happening on the federal side of things for transportation but also for us to make our case to elected officials that it’s important we continue our efforts to fund the gaps between Willmar and I-94,” Backman said.
The coalition includes 57 businesses, 16 units of government and nine other organizations and individuals along the Highway 23 corridor from Marshall to I-94.