Rep. Jurgens searches for creative ways to fund Highway 316 project
Last week, state Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove, announced that he was working on legislation to secure more funds for the Highway 316 project.
"My gut tells me that Highway 316 is not going to be funded by just one bill redirecting resources from one sector of state government," Jurgens said in a press release. "The City of Hastings asked me to look for creative legislative funding mechanisms to help fill the funding gap, and that's exactly what I've done. Again, any money we can secure from any number of available statewide resources will result in lower costs to the City of Hastings."
The total projected costs of the project range from $4.55-$5.56 million. Factoring in funding from the city of Hastings and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, there is a funding gap of roughly $1.54-$2.55 million.
The proposed safety improvements, which were approved by the Hastings City Council in December, include roundabouts at Spiral Boulevard as well as Tiffany and Tuttle drives. Pedestrian and bike trails, crosswalks and a center median are also included in the plans. Construction is planned to begin in 2021.
All aspects of the plan are meant to introduce safety for drivers and pedestrians that use the highway, which has been a big concern to residents in the area.
In 2017, MnDOT tried to raise the speed limits on Highway 316, but the proposal was met with anger from Hastings residents, who weren't happy with the current speeds, Jurgens said.
This led to an agreement between MnDOT, Jurgens and the city of Hastings that the speed limits in the affected area would not change and that input from Hastings businesses and residents would be considered when it came to resurfacing that was planned for 2021.
A speed study done before the proposal found that 15 percent of drivers on the highway drove more than 10 mph over the speed limit, according to MnDOT. The study also showed that a main cause of rear-end accidents was vehicles making left turns onto the highway.
In a presentation given to City Council by MnDOT this past December, roundabouts are being added to the project to help reduce speeds and better control traffic in the area. The reduced speeds will also provide pedestrian safety, MnDOT said.
Meeting the funding gap
Jurgens reiterated that he is looking at a number of different ways to get creative with funding to bring down costs for the city.
One such way, Jurgens said, is by trying to obtain Legacy Amendment dollars for the trail portion of the project. Legacy dollars, collected through sales tax revenue, help support arts, environment, and parks and trails in Minnesota through grants.
Because Highway 316 is included in the Mississippi Trail system, Jurgens believes it is possible for Legacy funds to be awarded for the construction of the new pedestrian and bike trails along the highway. According to Jurgens, this would then allow MnDOT funds to be allocated elsewhere in the project.
Jurgens said that he is also working on proposals to secure capital investment bonds and transportation funding to help close the fund gap. Grants from MnDOT's Local Road Improvement Program or the Local Partnership Program are two other options the city has, Jurgens said.
"The next step is getting the bills in front of a committee for a hearing. It could be the capital investment, transportation or Legacy committees," Jurgens said. "We will have a good idea of traction in the next few weeks. It could be the end of session before we get an answer though."
Jurgens' announcement comes a week after state Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, announced that she introduced legislation for Highway 316 funding in the Minnesota Senate.
"I appreciate Senator Bigham's efforts in the state Senate. We need to work together for the bettering of our district," Jurgens said.