ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Rep. Michele Bachmann is putting her political weight behind two transportation projects that are top priorities for businesses and locally elected officials in the western part of Congressional district.
One project would widen Interstate 94 to six lanes between Maple Grove and St. Cloud, which would be done in multiple stages focusing on the most chronic bottlenecks between Highways 101 and 241.
The other project would replace several at-grade intersections along Highway 10 in the cities of Elk River and Ramsey with overpasses. Some of those overpass projects would also separate the intersecting streets from Burlington Northern train tracks that run parallel to Highway 10.
"What we're saying is we need to prioritize the current transportation dollars that we have, and re-purpose them where they're needed the most," Rep. Bachmann told reporters at a press conference near the Capitol in St. Paul.
"We happen to believe they're needed the most in adding a new lane on either side of 94 and on making Highway 10 safe."
Bachmann, in her appearance at the State Office Building, said that she's made sure both projects are on the radar screen for Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster, the Republican who heads the House Transportation Committee on Capitol Hill.
The interstate projects would be funded primarily with federal dollars, but Bachmann said she did not favor an increase in the federal fuel tax to help finance it.
"This isn't really about whether we should increase or not increase federal gas tax," Bachmann asserted.
"This is about what should we do with the transportation dollars we have."
Kevin Gutknecht, a MnDOT spokesperson, said all of those projects are worthy, but they're not on the front burner at MnDOT at this point.
"We have a very complex selection process and it doesn't rise to the top because it doesn't meet all the metrics at this time," Gutknecht told reporters.
"It doesn't mean it's not a good project. It just means there are many good projects across the state and some are ahead of it."
Among those projects, he noted, was the new St. Croix River Bridge, which Bachmann championed in the U.S. House during the days when Stillwater was in her district. The Lafayette Bridge and the Hastings Bridge are other high-dollar MnDOT projects currently underway.
Many of those who took part in Bachmann's press conference in the State Office Building were business owners who said that time lost to congestion is lost income for companies and consumers alike.
"If Interstate 94 is healthy, our artery is healthy. That's going to help Minnesota businesses be healthy," said Jim Berge, the chief of business development at King Solutions in Dayton.
Berge said his freight logistics company handles freight for 900 companies in Minnesota and 300 trucks visit his docks each week using I-94.
Lexann Reischl of the GNP Company, which owns the Golden Plump chicken products company in St. Cloud, said Minnesota weather already adds to production costs. Congestion on I-94 has become another factor.
"We ship one million pounds of chicken products per day," Reischl said.
"We have about 40 trucks on the road and 25 to 30 of those trucks come through that I-94 corridor. Half of those, we estimate, sit in traffic delays."
A coalition of local leaders and businesses have formed the I-94 Coalition to advocate for the project. They estimate the first section, from Minnesota Highway 101 in Rogers to Minnesota Highway 241 in St. Michael would cost $25 million.
The Highway 10 interchange projects are often defended from the standpoint of safety. Local leaders from Anoka County and the city of Ramsey note the deadly crashes and pedestrian accidents along that highway and its stoplights.
In fact, during the press conference, they played a video of a multiple-injury crash at the intersection of Sunfish Lakes Boulevard and Highway 10.
In the video clip a westbound car is can be seen blowing through a red light and slamming into two vehicles trying to cross the two westbound lanes. The narrator of the video notes that emergency vehicles had trouble reaching the scene of the crash due to a moving BNSF train that blocked the access to Highway10.
"I pray for my family as they travel that road every day and you should pray for yours as well," Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look told reporters.
"This is a significant problem on this road."
But members of the local business community also weighed on how Highway 10 congestion can impact commerce as well.
"We currently ship 110,000 lenses out of our plant a day," Dave King, a plant manager at Vision-Ease Lens in Ramsey, a company that provides a large share of the eyeglass lenses sold in the US.
"The majority of our orders are last-minute orders, we don't get a lot of lead time."
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