Bonding committee hears ‘the ask’: Willmar area officials request funds for roads, college maintenance projects

Bonding committee hears ‘the ask’: Willmar area officials request funds for roads, college maintenance projects

January 9, 2018

Bonding committee hears ‘the ask’: Willmar area officials request funds for roads, college maintenance projects

WILLMAR—With millions of state bonding money on the line when the Legislature reconvenes next month, local officials made the case Monday that several area projects should be funded.

Members of the Senate Capital Investment Committee began a 12-day tour of the state Monday to hear pitches for projects seeking state funding.

During an hour-long stop at Ridgewater College in Willmar, committee members heard about the nuts and bolts of two major road and bridge projects and maintenance projects at the college.

Senators wanted to know exactly how much money was being requested in “the ask” and how much—if any—local money was being used to help fund the projects.

The largest request was for $140 million to complete gaps in the four-lane on state Highway 23 between Willmar and Interstate 94.

A coalition of businesses and government entities have been lobbying for years to finish the last two stretches of remaining two-lane highway. A 7.4-mile gap between New London and Paynesville is estimated to cost $60 million to expand to four lanes, and a 8.7-mile gap between Paynesville and Richmond is estimated to cost $80 million to complete.

Aaron Backman, director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, said completing the project would help regional businesses grow, improve farm-to-market routes and improve safety.

“This road is important to us,” Backman said. “Let’s finish the gaps.”

Another $3.9 million was requested by Kandiyohi County to pay half the cost of a bridge over two BNSF railroad tracks and a mile of road to re-establish a local road network for county roads 55, 5 and 15 by the Willmar Industrial Park. The bridge is linked to the Willmar railroad bypass project that will reroute some train traffic and bring a railroad spur to the industrial park.

Mel Odens, county public works director, said the county would match the state bonding allocation dollar-for dollar to fund the $7.9 million project.

Dan Holtz, vice president of finance and operations at Ridgewater College, thanked the legislators for past bonding money that paid for projects such as the $13.8 million building expansion and renovation in 2012.

Holtz asked the committee for $2.4 million, which would be used for roof repairs at the Hutchinson campus and maintenance projects at the Willmar campus.

Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, said it is good to get lawmakers on the road to tour projects in Greater Minnesota that could be considered for state bonding money.

While it’s not known exactly how big the bonding bill will be this year, it’s a given that the size of the requests will be far greater than the amount of money available.

Lawmakers will use the information they receive on these tours to make final decisions on which projects to fund or not.

The Legislature begins the 2018 session Feb. 20.

West Central Tribune by Carolyn Lange