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Traffic is pictured Wednesday at the state Highway 23 intersection in Paynesville. State officials on Wednesday announced they will spend a record $1.3 billion on transportation projects across Minnesota, to include the state Highway 23 bypass near Paynesville. The cost of the long-awaited project is $32 million. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Miles of Minnesota roads greenlit for construction

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EDEN PRAIRIE -- Minnesota motorists will see more orange barrels than ever this summer after state officials on Wednesday announced they will spend a record $1.3 billion on transportation projects.

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Of the 283 projects on the Minnesota Department of Transportation's 2010 list, 217 are on highways. The remaining projects will deal with railroads, ports and transit.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel and other government officials gathered within earshot of the year's biggest project, a $150 million Interstate 494-U.S. 169 intersection rebuilding effort, to announce the new plan.

"It's going to represent a significant quality of life improvement," Pawlenty said.

The governor, leaving the job in less than a year, said his administration has spent more than $5 billion on 1,900 projects since he took office in 2003.

Twins Cities' residents, as well as visitors, will run into detours in most areas of the eight-county area, including a $46 million rebuilding of the U.S. 52 bridge, a main entry into downtown St. Paul. An Interstate 494 bridge between Dakota and Washington counties over the Mississippi River, long delayed, should be finished this summer.

Even more people may be affected by a two-year, $70 million bridge and pavement reconstruction project on Interstate 35 in Duluth, which officials said could delay trips to Lake Superior.

"We ask travelers to plan ahead when traveling to the North Shore," Sorel said.

Money for the work comes from both state and federal sources: state-borrowed money, 40 percent; other state funds, 13 percent; regular federal funds, 32 percent; and federal stimulus funds, 15 percent.

Sorel said federal stimulus money approved last year to help the economy was spent on design work, which allows workers to start construction this year.

Pawlenty said he did not know how much of the $1.3 billion is coming from a $6.6 billion transportation package, including gasoline tax increases, that he vetoed in 2008 only to have lawmakers overturn his action. However, he added, it did not matter.

"If we didn't have gas tax ... we would have done it another way," he said, mentioning how the state has sold bonds to finance past construction projects.

While Pawlenty would not credit the tax increase for helping this year's projects, Democrats who wrote the package did.

"The Legislature's historic investment in 2008, resources provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, combined with low construction and material costs in our down economy, make this robust program possible," said Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, the Senate transportation chairman.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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