Tribune Editorial: MnDOT Sticks it to Greater Minnesota

West Central Tribune / Tribune Opinion

The Minnesota Department of Transportation on Tuesday announced the award of $417 million in Corridors of Commerce grants to four projects located within the seven-county Metro District or immediately adjacent to the Metro District. This announcement was a major benefit for the state’s Metro District and adjacent corridors. The proposed projects do nothing for Greater Minnesota.

The Corridors of Commerce program was created in 2013 by Gov. Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature to invest in needed projects that support commerce in the state but are not currently considered in the 

state’s transportation investment plan. Criteria included the proposed project’s return on investment, economic impact, freight efficiency, safety improvement, regional connections, policy objectives and community consensus, according to a MnDOT news release.

The final key was that 50 percent of the funding be invested in Greater Minnesota, outside MnDOT’s Metro District.

The 2018 project list was announced by MnDOT at a news conference Tuesday. “The selected projects will enhance the movement of freight and people in the regions where these projects are located which will aid the economy and reduce congestion,” according to MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle in a news release Tuesday.

Well, Commissioner Zelle, please explain how any of these four projects will aid the economy or reduce congestion in any Greater Minnesota project area?

All four projects awarded 2018 Corridor funding are located within 40 miles of downtown Minneapolis. That indeed was not the intent of the Corridor’s original mission to improve transportation statewide. The scoring system utilized by MnDOT to select Corridor projects gives extra points for corridor projects that connect with the Metro District. This criteria automatically grants an advantage to metro area projects and stacks the ranking system against projects located outside of 40 miles of the Metro District.

MnDOT’s claim that 50 percent of the 2018 funding went to Greater Minnesota does not pass the smell test. Frankly, it smells like a rotten animal carcass along a highway.

The 2018 Corridor rankings released Tuesday show that of the top 40 projects listed were as follows:

Metro district – 33 projects located within the district.

District 3 – five projects, two on Highway 169 and three on I-94 near St. Michael, all immediately adjacent to Metro District.

Outstate – two projects: one proposed to close the two-lane gaps on Highway 23 on either side of Paynesville and another proposed to close a two-lane gap on Highway 14 west of Dodge Center. Certainly when projects addressing transportation needs and safety improvement, like the Highway 23 Fill the Gaps project and the Highway 14 Gap project by Dodge Center, cannot make the grade, then the Corridors of Commerce simply is not working for Greater Minnesota and its citizens.

In fact, these two project were the top-ranked projects located in Greater Minnesota that were not located directly adjacent to MnDOT’s Metro District.

Since 2013, the Highway 23 Coalition and the Highway 14 Partnership groups have been among the most vocal supporters of the Corridors of Commerce program. The two groups are advocacy groups supporting a four-lane expansion of their respective Corridor of Commerce highways.

Both groups are frustrated and befuddled by MnDOT’s Corridors projects announced Tuesday.

We agree.

The time has come for the Minnesota Legislature to revisit the Corridors of Commerce program and its operation by MnDOT. This program needs a complete review before any more funding is allocated by MnDOT’s flawed criteria. A quick review of the 2018 project rankings scoresheet quickly reflects just how MnDOT has stacked the card deck with a strong Metro District bias and handicapped all the rest of Minnesota transportation projects.

The Legislature needs to act and act quickly to remedy this unjust practice under the Corridors of Commerce plan. Just because the majority of Greater Minnesota’s critical transportation corridors lie farther than 50 miles from the MnDOT’s Metro District does not mean they are less important. Greater Minnesota deserves a fair shake from MnDOT and it is not currently getting one in 2018.

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