Stimulus key in bridge project

Published 10:10 am Thursday, July 2, 2009

Drivers on Minnesota’s interstate highways may have noticed a surprising amount of traffic cones this construction season, a direct result of federal economic stimulus dollars at work.

The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is funneling about $959 million into Minnesota infrastructure, producing nearly 26,000 jobs.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) and members of think tank Minnesota 2020, which has produced a report of the state’s transportation recovery projects, explained at a press conference Wednesday how one Austin project will begin this month.

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The “flyover” bridge on Interstate 90, exiting onto Oakland Place Northeast, will be replaced, as well as a Dobbins Creek bridge and two Turtle Creek bridges, also on I-90. A mill and overlay project on I-90 will be funded by stimulus dollars as well.

John Van Hecke, executive director of Minnesota 2020, said the report is the first complete examination of how stimulus funding is benefiting Minnesota. The press conference was held on Oakland Place, near the “flyover” bridge.

“You can actually see the deterioration on the bridge,” Van Hecke said. “Is it going to fall down? No.”

The bridge was chosen for stimulus funding because it is “shovel-ready,” he explained. The bridge projects would have taken three years to complete; now, they will be finished by September 2010.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation estimated the price tag for the four-bridge project at $12.8 million; $4 million in federal dollars will fund the Oakland flyover alone.

Conrad deFiebre, Minnesota 2020 fellow and author of the transportation report, said hundreds of projects are slated in Minnesota. The stimulus funding, however, will only chip away at what needs to be done.

“We spent 20 years essentially digging ourselves a transportation hole,” said deFiebre, explaining that investment in infrastructure is “going to pay dividends for years to come.”

“It’s amazing how many projects are in practically every corner of the state,” deFiebre said. “This is the biggest public works projects I think we’ve ever had in the United States of America.”

Poppe said she is concerned about the lack of maintenance in infrastructure.

“We don’t have enough dollars, but we have to recognize what we have,” she said. “Today, we celebrate that we have a road construction season.”