Metro area projects awarded stimulus funds

Part of the funds will go to a three-mile extension of state Highway 610.

More than 50 people gathered for three hours in the Metropolitan Council Chambers Wednesday to find out if federal stimulus dollars would go to repairing the metro areaâÄôs infrastructure, or to expand two major highways. But in a move that the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Met Council feel balances needs for both, the Transportation Advisory Board voted to approve $126 million in projects, including a large highway expansion and about 20 local ventures. About $84 million will go to a three-mile extension of state Highway 610 in Maple Grove, with another $70 million in federal stimulus funding allocated to smaller projects in the region. However, using $138 million in stimulus dollars to support expansion of the 169/I-494 interchange did not pass. Khani Sahebjam, deputy commissioner of MnDOT, said they will be taking their âÄúfoot off the pedalâÄù in pursuing stimulus funds for the project, due in part to a refusal by the Federal Highway Administration to approve a smaller scale reconstruction of the interchange. Several mayors of surrounding suburbs spoke out to support the project, including Prior Lake Mayor Jack Haugen. Haugen said the board needed to focus on the long-term picture for the thousands of people who used the 169/I-494 interchange. But a majority of the testimonies concerned a âÄúbuild first, fix laterâÄù attitude that has left metro area bike trails, roadways and sidewalks in disrepair. âÄúOur focus over the last two decades has been expansion,âÄù Barb Thoman, co-founder of Transit for Livable Communities, said. âÄúNow we need to focus on repairs.âÄù Other Minneapolis residents echoed Thoman, saying that congestion has decreased on major highways because more people are biking, walking and using mass transit. Several small town officials also attended the meeting, urging the board to support specific projects in their areas and to reconsider a stimulus fund match requirement on projects. âÄúWith city levy limits we can only do so much,âÄù Candice Hansen, manager for the city of Mound, Minn., said. âÄúNo local match requirement will enable stimulus money to go a long way to save small towns.âÄù Christopher Bell, board member of the American Council of the Blind of Minnesota , strongly urged the council to apply funds to improve transportation for the disabled. Bell said the state of Minnesota has not complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act âÄî guidelines for making public and commercial facilities accessible for individuals with disabilities. Although MnDOT has allocated about $2 million for disability improvements, Bell said itâÄôs nowhere near enough. âÄúThis state is looking at a huge legal unfunded liability,âÄù he said. âÄúPlease be advised, you will need to spend money on accessibility, whether you like it or not.âÄù As part of the economic stimulus bill, Minnesota received about $502 million to pour into road and other infrastructure projects. But thereâÄôs an expected $150 million cut in the stateâÄôs road construction budget over the next two years, including about $66 million in the metro area. âÄúWe know that this money will create jobs, but it will also save a lot of jobs,âÄù Sahebjam said.