We're getting the overpass after all.
Elwyn Tinklenberg, transportation commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, was in Brainerd on Thursday to announce that the 2000 state Legislature passed a $560 million transportation funding bill this spring, and it includes $7.5 million for a full interchange on the Highway 371 bypass south of Brainerd.
Construction of the interchange will begin in 2002. The 371 bypass project, except the interchange, is expected to be completed by Labor Day. If the funding had not been allocated, MnDOT planned to construct an at-grade signalized intersection south of Brainerd.
In addition, Tinklenberg said MnDOT will move up construction plans to upgrade Highway 371 between Brainerd and Little Falls from a two-lane to a four-lane highway. Construction of phases one and two have been combined into one project to be completed during 2003-2004.
This means about 12 miles starting near Brainerd will be reconstructed into a four-lane highway, while the remaining six miles north of Little Falls will be reconstructed during 2005-2006. That final phase, said MnDOT spokesperson Mike Travis, is a more difficult project to plan.
Also, because of the influx of new transportation money, the segment of 371 from the bypass south of Brainerd that leads to downtown Brainerd will be developed into an access management plan to allow for economic development.
The roadway will be reconstructed with frontage roads, intersection spacing and other upgrades.
"This is a great day in transportation," Tinklenberg said at Thursday's news conference at the Brainerd-Crow Wing County Regional Airport.
The transportation funding bill passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Jesse Ventura was the first major financial package for transportation passed since 1988. The plan includes three basic elements -- Advantages for Transit ($5 million), Bottleneck Removal ($177 million) and Corridor Connections ($177 million), plus $100 million for trunk highway bonds. Of that funding, $68.3 million has been designated for central Minnesota for six projects, including the Highway 371 bypass project south of Brainerd, Highway 10 at County State Aid Highway 33 near Sauk Rapids, Highway 10 east of Big Lake, Highway 23 west of Richmond to Cold Spring, and Highway 169 at County Road 33 north of Elk River.
"Today is a historic day," said Rep. Steve Wenzel, DFL-Little Falls. "This bill truly paves the way for Minnesota's entry into the 21st century. We're probably not going to see another transportation package like this in a long time."
Forty-two people have died on Highway 371 south of Brainerd in the past seven years. Wenzel said the roadway had been declared a Grade 5, which means it is listed in the most dangerous category of Minnesota highways.
"I was very concerned," Wenzel said of safety issues concerning the dangerous stretch of road. "This has been a project of mine for a long time."
Wenzel said the transportation funding package was paid for through the tax surplus and not by any new tax increases.
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