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Tribune Editorial: Time to fund the gaps on Highway 23

The fishing agreement of Green Lake - for funding support for the Highway 23 gap projects - lasted apparently about as long as it took for the Minnesota political leaders to get out of Kandiyohi County Saturday.

Willmar Lakes Area Governor's Fishing Opener Host Kelly Morrell won an informal pledge Saturday from Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa,r and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, for funding for completing the 7-mile and 9-miles two-lane gaps on state Highway 23 between Willmar and Interstate 94.

Thank you to Morrell for speaking to your boat's captive audience Saturday about the recent funeral for Highway 23 accident victim Nathaniel Shumaker, an 11-year-old boy from New London injured along this highway. Morrell suggested increasing the 2018 bonding proposal from $825 million to $1 billion, in order to include funding for the proposed Highway 23 gap projects.

"It seemed like everyone was in agreement in the boat on it," Morrell said.

Unfortunately, the bonding bill is never final until it is approved by both the House and the Senate, then receives a signature from the governor.

On Monday, the Minnesota House passed a bonding bill which included $825 million to be repaid with general tax revenue.

However, it apparently did not include a legislative earmark for the Highway 23 gap projects.

The House bill would include these major areas of spending, according to House bonding committee chairman Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City.

• $364 million for asset preservation in state facilities.

• $120 million for road and bridge work.

• $153 million for water and conservation projects.

• $25 million for school safety.

The Senate failed Wednesday to approve its own $825 bonding bill, following a 34-33 party-line vote. The state constitution requires a three-fifths supermajority to increase the state debt.

All 33 Democratic-Farmer-Labor senators voted against the Senate bonding bill. The Senate DFL Caucus wants a larger bonding bill.

Now as the Legislature races toward the required session ending Monday, its respective leaders will go back to the drawing board seeking to forge a bonding agreement by midnight Sunday.

So there is still hope for Highway 23 funding. Gov. Dayton remains supportive of the funding if the House and Senate finally include the Highway 23 funding in the bonding bill.

Filling these Highway 23 gaps is critical to the future of the region's quarter-million residents, especially from economic development and road safety perspectives.

A complete four-lane connection to the Interstate Highway System is a critical factor to economic development of west central and southwest Minnesota. Willmar remains the largest regional center in the state without four-lane access.

The development of Willmar's $48 million Railroad Wye project will increase transportation demand due to the spur line access enabling multimodal transport for industry and commerce.

The four-lane connection is a requirement and vital factor for logistics and warehousing businesses with just-in-time inventory models.

There are nearly 1,200 transportation-related businesses in the region which directly impacts more than 30,000 employees. A completed Highway 23 four-lane corridor will increase this business sector demand.

Completing the four-lane upgrades will reduce the current bottleneck on the Highway 23 corridor, which in turn will improve freight movement and reduce barriers to commerce. Both are primary goals of the Corridors of Commerce project.

We hope that the Minnesota House and Senate leaders this weekend will support the Highway 23 gap funding and insert it in the final bonding bill. We do not want their lack of support for Highway 23 to turn a local fisherman's hope into a phantom fish story.

#FillTheGaps #Highway23

This editorial is the opinion of the West Central Tribune's Editorial Board of publisher Steve Ammermann and editor Kelly Boldan.

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