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Seeking more regional balance, bill proposes tweaking Corridors of Commerce program

A representative who spent the previous three biennia on the transportation committee hopes three is a magic number when it comes to funding highway projects.

Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) sponsors a bill that would create three regions of the state whose highway construction projects would be eligible for Corridors of Commerce funding.

He sees HF1822 which, as amended, was laid over Tuesday by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, as a step to make Corridors of Commerce money distribution fairer, building more legislative support for the 10-year-old program.

The core of the bill is regional balance, Torkelson said. It stems from a recent grant cycle when many legislators were disappointed in the final distribution of projects based on the scoring system MnDOT was required to use.  

The proposed legislation would divide Corridors of Commerce money into three relatively equal buckets of money to be directed to three different regions: along and within the Interstates 494 and 694 beltway; a 40-mile-wide ring surrounding those interstates, which Torkelson called a project-dense part of the state; and one for the rest of the state.

Additionally, the bill would allow MnDOT to use 10% of funding each year for project readiness projects, such as predesign, preliminary engineering and environmental analysis.

This will help return the program to a time when it funds projects both big and small, said Shane Zahrt, representing the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. For example, he said the program helped fund 27 projects with $330 million in its first four years. Since 2017-18, $850 million went out to seven projects.

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