State Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL - Balsam said last week he strongly supports a plan revealed by Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) last week to fund 10 highway construction projects.
Several projects in northeastern Minnesota were selected to receive funding through the state’s $300 million Corridors of Commerce program. The projects include a long-awaited expansion of approximately 1.7 miles of Highway 169 from two to four lanes near Bovey as well as adding three sections of passing lanes on Highway 2 between Cass Lake and Deer River.
“These projects will improve commerce and business between all communities in our region,” said Anzelc in a news release. “We’ve been talking about expanding this segment of Highway 169 for 30 years now because our people understand the positive impact it will have on our economy. It will speed up the flow of logging and mining trucks, improve safety, and help Grand Rapids prosper as a regional retail center.”
The Corridors of Commerce program was enacted by the 2013 Minnesota Legislature. The program authorizes the sale of new bonds for construction, reconstruction and improvement of trunk highways.
Currently, there are about seven miles of Highway 169 that remain a two-lane between Grand Rapids and Hibbing (an area that stretches from Bovey on the west to Pengilly on the east.). Local officials have long identified expanding the two-lane corridor as essential to the region’s economic development potential.
While this project will fund only 1.7 miles of the expansion to four-lane, Anzelc views it as an important step forward.
“I believe this is an indication that MnDOT recognizes the need,” said Anzelc in a telephone interview. “This is very good news.”
The news may be positive but there are still significant barriers to completion of a four-lane route between Grand Rapids and Hibbing, including a number of intersections/city entrances along the highway as well as property acquisitions that would need to take place before construction could proceed. The ongoing issue of aligning the political goals of federal and state officials also is likely to be an obstacle to bringing further development to fruition.
The Highway 169 expansion is a $16 to $20 million project, slated to begin construction in 2016. The Highway 2 expansion is an $8 to $10 million project, which would begin construction in 2014.
Anzelc said that the Highway 2 expansion also was vital to improved public safety and would benefit the forest products industry with an improved transportation corridor.