Bridges get boost in bonding bill
WORTHINGTON -- The Minnesota legislature wasn't supposed to take up a bonding bill this year, but in a last-minute attempt to put more people back to work, the House and Senate early Wednesday morning passed a $500 million bill that includes $33 million earmarked specifically for county and township bridge repairs and replacements.
Timber bridges throughout southwest Minnesota are rapidly deteriorating, but with a lack of state dollars to help fund replacements, many counties have been delaying the inevitable.
Nobles County Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder said the $33 million is "wonderful."
"Nobles County has several bridges that we want to get replaced," Schnieder said Wednesday afternoon. "Hopefully that money will go a long way to replacing them."
While funding has already been secured for bridge replacements on Nobles County State Aid Highways 1 and 14 this year, Schnieder said the bonding money could help finance the replacement of several other bridges the county has on the docket -- including one just north of the city of Worthington in Lorain Township and one on CSAH 14 near Midway Park north of Adrian.
Schnieder expects the bonding money will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the state has to grant approval for projects to get bonding money. He estimated Nobles County could have projects ready to make funding requests by late this year or by early January.
Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said the $33 million dedicated to bridges in the bonding bill is "the most money that I ever recall seeing." He explained that the money can only be used on bridges in counties, townships and cities -- not on the state highway system.
"When they passed the transportation bill in 2008, it didn't adequately fund county and township roads and bridges," Magnus said Wednesday afternoon as he left the state Capitol after two long weeks helping to write a bonding bill in the Senate. "I've been pushing to get quite a bit of money for roads and bridges."
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has a prioritized list of county and township bridges throughout the state that are targeted for replacement. In fact, Schnieder had just been in a meeting Wednesday where officials said MnDOT had already identified $78 million in bridge replacement costs on the county, township and city road systems. Not all of those projects are shovel-ready, however.
"Thirty-three million dollars sounds like a lot, but there's probably not $33 million in projects sitting and waiting to go," Schnieder said.
Said Magnus, "I know it's not enough, but it's $33 million more than we had yesterday."
The bonding bill was the last bill passed in the special legislative session that wrapped up at about 3:45 a.m. Wednesday.
"We were trying with this bonding bill to create as many jobs as we can," Magnus said. "You'll see a lot of jobs in there, putting people to work immediately."
Magnus said he and his fellow senators knew Gov. Mark Dayton wanted a bonding bill passed this year.
"He said the other day that was what he wanted to do -- a minimum $500 million bonding bill," Magnus said.
Other bonding bill benefactors include:
* $98 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and University System.
* $89 million for the University of Minnesota.
* $51 million to build flood-prevention measures across the state.
* $20 million to improve conservation.
* $16 million for a new Mississippi River dam at Coon Rapids to stop the spread of Asian carp
* $10 million for local road improvements.
* $8 million to develop Lake Vermillion State Park in northeast Minnesota.
* $7 million to improve the Minnesota Sex Offender Program/St. Peter treatment facility; and
* $4 million to begin repairs on the State Capitol.
The House approved the bonding bill on a 112-17 vote, while the Senate passed the measure 53-11. House debate took less than 10 minutes.
Don Davis, Forum Communications Co. State Capitol Bureau, contributed to this article.