For Rep. Michele Bachmann, Monday’s groundbreaking in St. Michael celebrating the expansion of Interstate 94 to six lanes between Rogers and St. Michael was an event eight years in the making.
For St. Michael City Administrator Steve Bot, the event was the concrete realization of something that wasn’t even on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s 20-year plan.
Somehow, the time warp that is the I-94 expansion project brought Bachmann, Bot, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and a who’s-who list of local and state dignitaries together Monday for an event that marks the first huge transportation project this area has seen in some time.
“And it’s only the beginning. It’s the first phase. A down payment,” Bachmann said. “This needs to be an interstate that runs six lanes from Maple Grove to St. Cloud, and it needs to follow this momentum and happen now.”
The $35 million project, with St. Michael’s own PCI Roads leading the charge, will officially kick off later this month when bulldozers begin moving earth both along Interstate 94 and in the farmland west of Fox Hollow Golf Course here. But Monday was earth-moving in its own way.
“To get something that wasn’t even on the MnDOT radar and have this day come is pretty amazing,” Bot said. “In my 20-year career, it’s the first time I’ve seen the state commission and those involved in the state and federal level make a decision truly based on economic impact and commerce. It’s not a project that was high on the list, until you see what a financial impact it has on businesses and tourism out here. Once they took that into account, it moved up the list. And the Corridors of Commerce project list made it possible.”
Each dignitary, from Bachmann on the right and Klobuchar on the left, to the city and county officials in between, said this was the culmination of hard work, and a realization that this had to be done for the betterment of Minnesotans all over the state.
“You want to head west, this is the route to do it,” said Klobuchar, who grew up in Plymouth and remembered family trips west on I-94. “Everyone has sat in that traffic. Rogers to St. Cloud accounts for less than 2 percent of our Interstate system and 40 percent of the congestion. That’s not a project that involves a Democrat road or a Republican road. It’s a project that cried out for a ‘yes’ vote from anyone who drives.”
Klobuchar, who sits on several Senate committees that can assist in moving the expansion forward, and Bachmann, who is on her way out of the U.S. House, said they’ll both continue to look for funding at the federal level to continue expansion.
“The days of earmarks are gone, but we need to look at a system in government that allows us to better the lives of our constituents, and to bring back money that can focus on our people,” Klobuchar said.
Bachmann, who has been hearing about the need for freeway expansion since she was elected to office in the State Senate, pointed to 2014 as a pivotal year for road projects, and hopes the ball is moving in the right directions.
“We’ve spent $2 billion on trains over the past how many years?” she asked. “With that, we could have had this done, added another lane all the way around the [694/494] beltway, and made improvements to 35E, 35W and I-94 in the city. We need to have the same commitment now to roads and bridges that the liberal leaders have had to trains this year and the year to come. For our businesses and the people that pay the taxes in this state, it needs to be in the long term plans to make us competitive again. We’re losing businesses because of the failure to prioritize things like new roads.”
Bot said the Corridors of Commerce project list, made a priority by Gov. Mark Dayton and MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle, were the key to making this a “no-go” after a 2013 hearing to a “poster child” for specially-funded priorities.
“They really heard our testimony and saw the evidence and were able to find alternative funding and get this on the fast track,” Bot said. “It was a lot of hard work by people in the public and private sector. But we’re here today because of that hard work.”
That, and, Zelle added, a bit of direction.
“When you look at this project, and its impact not only on this community but the state, it has such a high return on investment,” he said Monday. “We know, at this point, there is more work to be done out here. But this is a great project for the metro, for Greater Minnesota, and it’s an example of the strategic investment we can make in our infrastructure.”