Molnau, Sviggum in Willmar to promote road plan

WILLMAR -- A $2.5 billion bonding plan could accelerate a number of highway projects, if Minnesota voters are willing to play along with the governor.

WILLMAR -- A $2.5 billion bonding plan could accelerate a number of highway projects, if Minnesota voters are willing to play along with the governor.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau proposed a 10-year road-building plan on Wednesday. However, the plan's success depends on voters approving an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution in November. The amendment would dedicate all motor vehicle sales taxes to roads and transit.

Molnau stopped in Willmar Wednesday morning to discuss the plan with Department of Transportation employees. Molnau is also transportation commissioner.

"This will accelerate dozens of projects across the state without raising taxes," she said. "We have a preliminary list of about half of what can be done with this package."

Motor vehicle sales taxes that now go to the general fund would be paid to the trunk highway fund and would be used to make bond payments, Molnau said.


A list of sample projects, spending about half the money available, was released Wednesday. They included an interchange and frontage roads at Highway 23/71 and County Road 90 north of Willmar and the Highway 23 Paynesville bypass. If the Legislature passes the road plan and the voters pass the constitutional amendment, Molnau said, the Paynesville bypass could be completed using bonding money.

On Tuesday, the District 8 Area Transportation Partnership, covering much of southwestern Minnesota, approved using District 8 funds on the bypass, which is in a different district. The vote was close and controversial.

"That could be done with bonding," Molnau said. "I think that's a good proposal, and folks here should be supporting it." She spoke with about 35 MnDOT employees at District 8 headquarters in Willmar.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, was traveling with Molnau Wednesday. The voters may be more likely to approve the amendment if the state has a plan for how to use the money, he said.

Sviggum said the $2.5 billion, 10-year plan would be a prudent use of the state's resources.

If the amendment does not pass in November, "we could still do a plan but not of this magnitude," he said.

Pawlenty's plan last year did not have sufficient new resources to support the bonding he was proposing, Molnau said, but this one does. Pawlenty vetoed a legislative plan that would have included a 5-cent increase in the state gas tax.

The plan proposed on Wednesday would be equal to the revenue from a 9.5-cent increase in the gas tax, Sviggum said.


"I think most people, after going through the last year with gas nearly $3 a gallon, are not overly receptive to raising the gas tax," Molnau said.

Molnau said many of the projects would improve road safety and would be done years ahead of schedule with the administration's plan.

For example, the Paynesville bypass, now scheduled for 2015, could be moved up to 2009, according to information provided by MnDOT. The Highway 23/71 interchange at County Road 90 would be moved from 2017 to 2012.

Information about the proposal is available on the MnDOT Web site at .

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