Our view: MnDOT feeling scorn of outstaters
The Minnesota Department of Transportation on Tuesday awarded more than $400 million to fund four highway projects. It's likely that by now, MnDOT has felt the scorn of Greater Minnesota.
Why are outstate Minnesotans upset? Because each of the four projects is located within relatively close distance of downtown Minneapolis.
Specifically, the areas and their funding amounts were:
■ Interstate 494, France Avenue to Highway 77: $134 million.
■ Interstate 494, Bush Lake Road to I-35W: $70 million.
■ Interstate 169 in Elk River: $157 million.
■ Interstate 94 at Albertville: $94 million.
The first two are considered "Metro District" projects by MnDOT. The latter two are considered "Greater Minnesota" projects, and therein lies the problem. Since Elk River and Albertville are hardly considered outstate Minnesota by the typical Minnesotan, it's natural there will be a few eyebrows raised by those who live away from the Twin Cities and among the prairies, lakes and farms that make up the bulk of Minnesota's landscape.
Here's a statement released Tuesday by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities: "The Corridors of Commerce awards announced (Tuesday) demonstrate a massive failure on MnDOT's part to address transportation needs statewide. Corridors of Commerce was clearly designed to be a statewide program aimed at connecting regional corridors to one another and to the metro area."
That quote is attributed to Granite Falls Mayor Doug Smiglewski, president of the CGMC. The nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization represents 96 cities outside of the metro area.
The group now demands that lawmakers take immediate action to suspend the MnDOT decision, in hopes of reevaluating the 2018 Corridors of Commerce funding.
MnDOT awards the funds based on eligibility criteria that score potential return on investment, economic impact, freight efficiency, safety improvements, regional connections, policy objectives and community consensus.
But MnDOT also employs another criteria — regional balance — and that probably is why the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities feels slighted. Others are unhappy as well, including state lawmakers. For example, Rep. Tim Miller, a Republican from Prinsburg, said it's "an outrage."
"We gave an incredible amount of money to this program thinking at least some of Greater Minnesota's highway issues would be addressed," he told the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minn.
Rep. Dave Baker, a Republican from Willmar, told the Tribune that the decision is "baffling" and said the scoring methods didn't recognize the requirement for regional balance.
So when this year's Corridors of Commerce grants were awarded to four projects so close to downtown Minneapolis, it's hard not to sympathize with outstaters who may be offended. Overall, there were more than 170 projects being considered.
"There is far more to Minnesota than a 40-mile radius around U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis," Smiglewski continued in the CGMC press release, "but you certainly wouldn't know it from looking at the 2018 awards."
Smiglewski is right. Outstate Minnesotans have reason to feel slighted.