I-94 expansion has huge benefit for Wright County

By John Holler

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

For years, Wright County officials have butted heads with the Metropolitan Council over trying to get their hands on state funding money for the expansion of the I-94 corridor between Rogers and Monticello, where commuter traffic gets bottled up on a daily basis.

At the Nov. 19 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners heard from State Rep. David FitzSimmons, who came before the board to announce the timetable for I-94 expansion between Rogers and St. Michael and thank the county commissioners, in particular Commissioner Mike Potter, for their work on accomplishing what many had viewed as a long shot at best.

“It came as very welcome news to Wright County,” FitzSimmons said. “I’d like to thank the county board for its support, especially Commisioner Potter, who was very present at most of the meetings and the deliberations. It’s a good day for Wright County and the commerce corridor between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.”

FitzSimmons explained that more than 400 applications were made to the Minnesota Department of Transportation for the $300 million in road project funding. Only 10 of those were accepted and $35-45 million of that funding pool was earmarked for the I-94 corridor project. The group fighting for the project, which ranged from those near Rogers all the way to St. Cloud, which helped make the point that this was a regional project and not simply a project that would benefit those between Rogers and St. Michael.

“It will not only be of a big benefit to us now, but will make it easier to expand other segments of I-94 in the future,” FitzSimmons said. “There was a lot a bureaucratic red tape that needed to be done and we were extremely pleased because there was a lot of competition for those dollars.”

Groundbreaking expected in July 2014 with completion expected by the fall of 2015. FitzSimmons said that he is hopeful now that it is clear that the state sees the merit in the expansion project that it may have a leg up when the next round of road funding comes through to continue the expansion to three lanes in both directions of I-94 from St. Michael to Monticello.

Potter said that, while he took over his county commissioner position with the hope of using that influence to get the I-94 expansion done, he was the first to admit that, while proud of his role, he was one component in a multi-pronged group approach that helped get the I-94 project approved.

“It was truly a team effort,” Potter said. “A lot of people worked very hard on this and, without such a wide net of support, we wouldn’t have been able to get this done. It was definitely a group effort and everyone came together at the right time. It was a goal of mine when I got on the county board and I was cautiously optimistic that it would happen because it met so many of the criteria for awarding the project. I’d like to take credit for it, but I can’t because there were so many people working tirelessly to get the project pushed over the top.”

In other items on the Nov. 19 agenda, the board:

DECLINED to take action on a requested letter of support for Geronimo Energy concerning three township solar farms that was requested earlier this month by Geronimo representatives. The board had laid over approving a letter of support in order to get more information. Having unresolved questions, the board initially considered tabling the matter, but, because the application deadline was Friday, Nov. 22, the matter was dropped because it couldn’t meet the deadline if not approved at the Nov. 19 meeting, which is clearly wasn’t going to be. With the matter dropped, the issue will only come back to the board meeting only if Geronimo requests agenda time.

AUTHORIZED the attendance of County Highway Engineer Virgil Hawkins and Assistant Highway Engineer Chad Hausmann to the National Association of County Engineers national conference April 13-17 in Baton Rouge, La.

SCHEDULED the county’s annual Employee Recognition Ceremony for March 4, 2014.

TABLED a contract with Wright-Hennepin Electric to provide service and maintenance for panic buttons that will be placed in the court services and county attorney’s offices in the event of an emergency to get more information about ongoing maintenance costs.

APPROVED a 1 percent increase in the salaries for elected department heads – County Attorney Tom Kelly, Sheriff Joe Hagerty and Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala.

SET interview times for candidates for the human services director position from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2 and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday Dec. 3.

AUTHORIZED signatures on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s county feedlot performance grant.

APPROVED the minutes from a pair of informational meetings held Nov. 12 discussing repairs needed on County Ditches 22 and 31. No formal action was taken about authorizing ditch repairs.

PAID a claim from labor attorney Frank Madden for $864 for work completed in October.

AUTHORIZED final payment of $9,750 to Fehn Gravel and Excavating for work completed on a highway construction project on CSAH 19 in Albertville in 2012.

APPROVED 16 tobacco license renewals for 2014, including businesses in the cities of Albertville, Clearwater, Cokato, Delano, Hanover, Monticello, Otsego and St. Michael.

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