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Hwy. 34 included in state's proposal for transportation

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Minnesota Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau touched down in Detroit Lakes Wednesday afternoon to talk about a new $2.5 billion transportation program, which includes reconstruction of Highway 34 from Detroit Lakes to Akeley.

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"When you think of asking for bonding, you think of long-term (results)," Molnau said.

The state has fallen way behind in transportation needs, she said at the Minnesota Department of Transportation office in Detroit Lakes, but with this proposal, projects throughout the state will mark a milestone in improvements.

"By linking this plan directly to passage of the MVST (Minnesota vehicle sale tax) amendment and highlighting projects that would be accelerated, we give the citizens of Minnesota a very clear sense of the importance of their vote," Molnau said.

The MVST amendment to the Minnesota constitution would state that 100 percent of motor vehicle sales taxes would be dedicated to highway and transit projects. Only 54 percent are distributed now.

"It's a wonderful proposal," said Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum. "Quicker, cheaper, more efficient."

Quicker, he said, because some of the roads that wouldn't have been fixed for 20 years will be done within a few years. Cheaper because building costs are only to go up in price. And efficient because roads like Highway 34 will be fixed in one long stretch rather than four to five miles at a time.

The amendment, which will be on the November ballot, will only take half of the funds to fix the proposed roads. He said that leaves hope that other road projects along the way can be fixed as well, but no specific projects were named. "It's important to know what a 'yes' vote will be buying you," Sviggum added.

Molnau stressed the proposed package will dedicate money to roads, not to metro transit. The current wording on the amendment says at least 40 percent of the funds will be spent on metro transit and up to 60 percent on roads. Many people have expressed concern about the wording, worrying that much more than the 40 percent would go to metro and much less than 60 percent to rural roads.

Sviggum said he supports the wording change, as did Molnau.

Becker County Administrator Brian Berg questioned the connection of the Heartland Trail from Detroit Lakes to Park Rapids, and if funds for that project were included in the proposal.

Molnau said funds were not named specifically for any trails throughout the state.

The Heartland connection is estimated to cost $4.6 million in conjunction with the Highway 34 road project. Highway 34 will be widened, resurfaced and passing lanes will be added.

Sviggum cautioned that giving $4.6 million to any one project would be a lot.

If the amendment isn't passed, Molnau said the roads won't be pushed back any farther than they already are. The amendment passing would just mean the projects could be moved up by a considerable time frame.

"They won't fall off because they're on this list," she said.

Besides Highway 34, other roads included on the proposal are Highway 61 along North Shore, Highway 23 from St. Cloud to Foley, Highway 60 from Worthington to the Iowa border, Highway 23/71 by Willmar, Highway 100 in St. Louis Park and several more.

"This is what Minnesota is all about, rural areas," said Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce Director Katie Magozzi. "I support this 110 percent."

For more information on the projects, visit the web site, www.dot.state.mn.us/financing.

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