St. Michael: ‘Stars are aligned’ for I-94 improvement
But city says MNDOT ‘is a stumbling block’
City of St. Michael staff is hopeful that momentum keeps swinging in favor of adding lanes to Interstate 94.
But city administrator Steve Bot said the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) “remains a stumbling block” the improvement.
The council also discussed the County Rd. 119 improvement project and took action on other issues.
Administrator Bot noted that the I-94 West Corridor Coalition that seeks new lanes from Rogers to Monticello has “a lot of exciting things going on.”
Bot said he and councilors Chris Schumm and Nadine Schoen, I-94 West Chamber of Commerce President Rhonda Baack, and Wright County Commissioner Mike Potter were in attendance at the recent Transportation Day at the Capitol where area Rep. David FitzSimmons helped schedule meetings with key representatives.
“All of (the representatives) seem willing to put some legislation forward to move I-94 onto a positive direction,” Bot said.
He said area Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer might get a bill started to “rally the troops and point out the importance of I-94.”
Bot did cite a problem that there is a disconnect between metro transportation planning and the MNDOT Dist. 3 (St. Michael’s district), which does not include I-94 on any upcoming project lists.
“The stars are aligned,” Bot said. “There is a senate hearing. The head of the transportation committee wants to do a tour. There seems to be a lot of momentum but MNDOT is still a stumbling block. Their plan is to just provide pavement and be happy with it.”
He said the next best step is to lobby for the project at the legislature.
“We need to jump up and scream!” Bot said. “When you look at the numbers, I-94 is a ‘no brainer’ compared to every other corridor.” He said the numbers are on the Corridor Coalition’s side, “but in some way MNDOT is not using the numbers.”
Bot said the numbers include statistics about freight, economy, traffic congestion, traffic volume, regional benefit and tourism. He also said the city of St. Cloud has indicated its support for the project since its growth is reliant on the freeway that is “choked off.”
Commissioner Potter added that he is attending the Transportation Alliance meetings of road contractors and consultants.
“They’re figuring out how to go about this and press the legislature to do something about the roads,” Potter said about the alliance.
Bot also said that Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has proposed planning an I-94 event in March with a number of key legislators, and inviting Gov. Dayton to build further support.
COUNTY RD. 119
In other news, community development director Marc Weigle said he and councilor Joe Marx attended a meeting at Wright County regarding improvements to County Rd. 119, which extends north and then west of County Rd. 35 in western St. Michael. The road also intersects Jamison Avenue south of STMA High School and is commonly used to access the school.
The county is proposing a pavement preservation project this year and will cover 100 percent of the costs. Staff said that if the city requests upgrading the street to a rural or urban street design, the costs significantly increase and the city would be required to share the costs.
Wright County Commissioner Potter said the county transportation committee would be discussing the current funding policy and bonding level at its next meeting. Potter said the county has underfunded transportation for decades and needs to start catching up on maintenance.
“I’d like every city and township in Wright County to give input to be more reflective of the way we are today,” Potter said. “At 25 miles per year, we’re not catching up. The only route left is to try and bond for these roads to catch up.”
Mayor Jerry Zachman noted that eastern Wright County with its population and tax base needs “more representation than we’ve had before” and commended new commissioner Potter. “Keep up the good work,” he told Potter.
The council’s consensus was to keep the project as a pavement preservation project. Then if there is growth along the road in the future and traffic increases, then the city could request an upgrade.
In other action, the council:
HONORED longtime firefighter Gordy Dehmer for his 30 years of service on the St. Michael Fire and Rescue Department. Mayor Zachman noted that Dehmer made it to 63 percent of all fire calls since 2005. He is a present assistant chief, and had been a district chief and captain. About 15 department members were on hand to congratulate Dehmer.
AMENDED the city policy for installing sewer backflow preventers to have the city pay up to $1,000 of the costs for the installation.
HEARD from councilor Kevin Kasel on behalf of the STMA Arena Board that an arena expansion feasibility study should be completed soon.