Wright County Commissioner Mike Potter was in St. Paul Monday in his capacity as 2020 president of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, which met for its monthly meeting to discuss the current impasse between Gov. Tim Walz and the State Legislature in getting a bonding bill completed.
He conducted a virtual meeting of the Transportation Alliance to update members of the status of the state bonding bill currently mired at the State Legislature. It made it through the powerful ways and means committee, but it was unclear which projects remain part of the bill and which aren’t.
“What made the transportation side of the bonding bill unique is that it just lumped all the highway funding together,” Potter said. “Back in the spring, individual projects were listed. This time they weren’t. They didn’t segregate out projects like they usually do, so we don’t know if the I-94 or Highway 55 projects that were part of the initial transportation bill are still included or not. What made it through the ways and means committee was lumped together – just saying $330 million for roads. It didn’t specify which projects were included.”
Two of the projects are of acute interest to Wright County – the I-94 project between Albertville and Monticello that would add a lane in both directions and the Hwy. 55 project between Medina and Loretto that would increase traffic from two to four lanes. While the Hwy. 55 project isn’t in Wright County, many county residents use Hwy. 55 on their daily commutes and as an access point to the Twin Cities. The Hwy. 55 bonding project would include right-of-way acquisition and design, which would have the project “shovel-ready” as it attempts to access federal transportation funds.
Potter said that the bonding bill has been a leverage point for Senate Republicans who are looking to reduce or eliminate the executive powers that Walz has enacted under the peacetime state of emergency, which was extended to Aug. 12 earlier this week. The current session could stretch into next week, but the Senate has the ability to adjourn without an agreement being reached.
Walz was in the City of Henderson for a press conference dealing with a road project in the city that is prone to flooding. At that event, he said he hopes that the bonding bill will get approved and hinted he would be willing to make some concessions to the power of his executive orders to get a deal done.
Passage of the bonding bill could come as early as Friday or Monday, but there are no guarantees. As Potter pointed out, there has already been one special session and it wasn’t passed then. Those communities with needed road projects looking to get a portion of the funding that comes through the bonding bill are left to wait and see.
“It’s hard to predict whether they can reach an agreement or not,” Potter said. “Typically, if a bill makes it through the ways and means committee, it tends to get adopted. But, these are unusual times and this issue has become very political. For the sake of Wright County and other counties in the state that have critical road and bridge projects tied into the bonding bill, I hope something gets done and the partisan fighting can stop for a minute to help those communities. Whether that happens or not is anyone’s guess at this point.”