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Capital investment package includes funding for colleges, local highway project

The Senate Capital Investment Committee advanced a $360 million bonding package aimed at funding critical, shovel-ready regional infrastructure needs, while creating thousands of new jobs in the state. Included in the bill is a $300,000 appropriation for the design and construction of a highway overpass over U.S. Highway 10 and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks in Staples.

"I'm pleased that we were able to get this important regional project included in the Senate bonding proposal," said Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, who chief-authored legislation requesting the funding. "Building this overpass will improve the north-south flow of traffic through the region, and make it easier for police and ambulances to respond to emergencies."

The city of Staples, in partnership with Todd County, is coordinating the effort to build the overpass. City officials say building an overpass is integral to public safety in the area, as emergency vehicles often wait considerable periods of time when trains are passing through the intersection. In addition, the project will provide a north-south corridor between Todd and Wadena counties. Federal funding is available to help pay for the project, but is contingent on the city securing a financial commitment from the state.

State Economist Tom Stinson, testifying before the Senate Capital Investment Committee, said that Minnesota will need more than the federal stimulus to get real economic recovery underway and get people working again. He said funding for projects that can begin almost immediately, such as repair and renovation of existing facilities, would be a positive step, and added that delaying construction for a year or two will simply delay the problem.

The legislation calls for a total of $367 million invested in projects throughout the state. Of that, $329 million will come from the state in the form of general obligation bonds, and the rest will be user-financed. The lion's share of funding -- nearly $150 million -- will go for asset preservation and other improvements to higher education facilities within the University of Minnesota system and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Experts estimate that this legislation will mean the creation of more than 3,600 jobs in the construction phase of these projects, and more ongoing jobs once renovations and facilities are completed. In addition, with the construction business suffering through the same slowdown plaguing the overall economy, and the prices of building materials dropping to levels not seen in many years, these projects can be completed at significant savings to Minnesota taxpayers.

Authors of the legislation have said they hope to have it passed by the Senate within a week in hopes of having funding authorized and projects underway by April 1.