Monticello council gets I-94 West Corridor Coalition update

Monticello council members will soon be asked to reconsider approving a contribution to become a I-94 West Corridor Coalition financial stakeholder.
City Engineer Bruce Westby provided a coalition update during Monday night’s council meeting. The focus of Westby’s informational presentation was recent I-94 West Corridor Coalition activity and recently introduced funding legislation in the Minnesota House and Senate to add additional lanes to Interstate 94.
Specifically, a recently introduced House bill would put additional general purpose travel lanes on I-94 from Highway 101 to Highway 241. House File 1292 would add a project for constructing another travel lane to I-94 between the Highway 101 interchange in Rogers and the Highway 241 interchange in St. Michael to the next  state transportation improvement program update.
Westby said this project would be scheduled for construction within the next 5 years. Senate File 426 would appropriate approximately $100 million for building additional general purpose lanes on I-94 between Rogers and Monticello, Westby said Monday.
The Monticello council was previously asked by staff to contribute to the I-94 West Corridor Coalition on Sept. 22, 2008. At the time, the majority of the council felt the cost of joining would outweigh the benefit.
In his background memo to council, Westby stated the request wasn’t a budgeted expense; additionally, because the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) had no money to construct additional lanes, a financial contribution could not be supported at the time. While Monticello is not currently a financial stakeholder in the I-94 West Corridor Coalition, Westby said he’s currently a sitting member on the coalition’s board. In the past, Monticello has supported the coalition through financial commitments via its economic development authority.
“They are making strides,” Westby said, referring to the coalition’s recent efforts in St. Paul to meet with area legislators regarding funding for more I-94 lanes.
The I-94 West Corridor Coalition last met March 5, Westby said.
During that meeting officers were elected. Steve Bot, St. Michael’s city administrator, was voted chairman of the coalition and Adam Nafstad, Albertville’s city administrator, was voted vice-chair. Rhonda Baack, president of the I-94 West Chamber of Commerce, was voted secretary and treasurer.
Westby also reported that U.S. Sixth District Rep. Michele Bachmann is planning a March 18 transportation press conference at the state office building in downtown St. Paul, Westby said.
Bachmann’s is expected to voice her support for the expansion of the I-94 west and Highway 10 corridors,
According to Westby, city staff understands that Bachmann’s primary focus will include a push for I-94 west corridor expansion.
The I-94 coalition will be mailing invoices to local governments along the I-94 west corridor asking them to commit to becoming financial stakeholders, Westby said. The current membership rate is 50 cents per capita. Based on Monticello’s 2010 census population of 12,759, Westby said joining the coalition would require a contribution of $6,379. “We plan to bring that back to council for later consideration,” Westby said, adding that Baack would provide a coalition update.
Councilmember Glen Posusta was skeptical about joining the coalition.
He mentioned that any I-94 lane expansion to the south of Monticello would have to contend with MnROAD, the pavement test track owned and operated by MnDOT that includes a 3.5 mile mainline stretch of roadway on Interstate 94.
MnROAD was originally constructed in 1994 and cost $25 million. State and federal funding were used to construct the research facility at 9011 77th St. N.E.
“I will be voting no on this now and in the future,” Posusta said, adding the city would be “pounding money down a rat hole” if it joined the corridor coalition.
“MnDOT is not opposed to going out,” said Bret Weiss, president of WSB & Associates, Inc., the city’s consulting engineer, referring to lane expansion.
According to Weiss, a “long-term push” involving the cities of St. Michael, Albertville, Otsego and Rogers is needed as well as Monticello.
“We’ve been working hard on this,” he said. “Every one of those cities could say it doesn’t benefit [from a lane expansion] but getting involved is part of the process to keep things moving. We want more a grass roots effort [from them].”
In 1998, Councilmember Brian Stumpf seconded a motion against adopting a resolution supporting I-94 corridor expansion funding. “Rogers wasn’t on board,” he said. “That’s why I voted against it last time.”
Mayor Clint Herbst said he wasn’t a supporter of lobbyists. However, Herbst said Highway 10 improvements would be good for Monticello because they would pull traffic away from Interstate 94
“We should take a good look at this when they [I-94 West Coalition Corridor members] come,” Herbst said. “I think there will be a way to fix MnRoad.”
Regarding Rogers’ participation in the coalition, Weiss said officials there were more concerned about securing federal and state funding for the Highway 101 flyover.
The $7.6 million project was largely funded by federal and state money which Minnesota elected officials successfully helped appropriate for Rogers. He also addressed lane expansion near St. Michael in responding to Posusta and Herbst. According to Weiss, getting a third lane past Rogers and then over to St. Michael would help decrease the amount of incremental traffic found on I-94.
“If it [lane expansion] stops short of Monticello, because of MnRoad, it’s going to tick us off,” Herbst said.
Weiss replied: “The [existing coalition] group wants you to be part of it. There is power in numbers. That’s why we recruited St. Cloud. They are on board, and have told us without lane expansion, their community is dead in the water.” He added that Elk River, Becker, Big Lake might be approached for coalition funding support at 10 or 25 cents per capita level.

Contact Managing Editor Tim Hennagir at tim.hennagir@ecm-inc.com

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