ST. PAUL (AP) -- State transportation officials Wednesday announced more money to speed up planning for improvements to major highways around the state.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation will fund corridor management plans for seven inter-regional highway corridors around the state at a cost of about $4 million, said Assistant MnDOT Commissioner Doug Weiszhaar.
The studies will reveal where new interchanges, access roads, signals and possibly extra lanes will be needed and include public input in the decision-making process, Weiszhaar said.
They will begin next year and take one year to complete instead of the usual three years, he said.
"These are very important transportation corridors, to the region and to the state," he said. "Today, we're beginning a new phase of our efforts to preserve these corridors for the future."
Money for the accelerated planning process comes from $560 million the Legislature allocated for transportation this year.
Also scheduled for funding is regular commuter bus service from Elk River to Minneapolis, to begin next year and run until Northstar commuter train service becomes available in 2004.
These corridors were selected because traffic can no longer maintain the minimum 60 mile-per-hour average speed MnDOT wants to preserve and may need new or consolidated interchanges to improve safety and traffic flow, said Robert Busch, MnDOT District 3 Engineer.
Central Minnesota population estimates show almost 100,000 additional area residents by 2020, a 20 percent increase from today, he said.
An estimated 54 miles of congested highway in the area may multiply almost fivefold in 20 years to 258 miles, he said.
And while state funding for regional road projects has increased recently, MnDOT Assistant District Engineer Jim Povich said future improvements, including a $50 million to $60 million river crossing south of St. Cloud to connect U.S. Highway 10 and Interstate Highway 94, will be expensive.
"We're the fastest growing region in the state," he said, "and it's going to be hard to keep up with that growth."
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