10/17/2019 4:27:00 PM State and local officials get up close,
personal with Hwy. 8 needs
Minnesota Senate Transportation Committee chair and the vice-chair, plus local MN House Representatives Bob Dettmer, Anne Neu, Brian Johnson and Sen Mark Koran were accompanied on the bus tour by council members and city staff from Lindstrom, Wyoming and Chisago City; Commissioner George McMahon; Doug Hasler from Chisago Lakes School District, Sherry Stirling, Gary Gerke and Nora Holt, Task Force members, and Sheriff Thyen. The bus departed from Lord of Lakes Church after a presentation by County Engineer Joe Triplett.
You wouldn’t have given a second thought last week if you saw a Heartland Express bus tooling along on Highway 8; unless you knew who the passengers were. A host of local highway advocates took members of the Senate Capital Investment Committee on a tour of the Hwy. 8 corridor to explain about hoped-for highway improvement projects.
The committee is the first hurdle in getting on the legislature’s final bonding list next year. Senators on the committee have jurisdiction over public improvements of a capital nature, whether from the general fund, General Obligation bonding or any other operating funds.
The Highway 8 corridor has had no shortage of vocal advocates and a local “Task Force” has been meeting since 1999. Projects like the one-way pairs in Lindstrom, the round-a-bout at #95 and multiple driveway closures and lighted intersections have all helped address some of the highway’s hazardous attributes. There is a push right now for an estimated $50 million worth of not just long deferred maintenance; but new intersections, expanding to four lanes and more. The focus for the committee tour was the eight mile stretch from Forest Lake to Chisago City.
Chisago County Commissioners-- working with state legislators --won $3 million from the state budget for the current design phase. The idea is to have right-of-way and specifications drawn up so that as soon as outside funding is available to be appropriated, Highway 8 will be at the top of the list.
The next big advancement would be winning federal and state transportation funding covering the vast majority of the millions needed.
Congressman Pete Stauber has been kept apprised of the needs and is supportive, according to Chisago County Engineer Joe Triplett. He also told officials now is the “right time” to commit. The highway is still mixed use, with farm implements sharing the road with semi trucks, but it now carries mostly commuters, “...people live here and work somewhere else” said Triplett.
Hwy. 8 has one of the highest traffic count growth potentials of similar routes in the state, Triplett continued. Projects need to get in the pipeline now to keep up with growth pressure.
The immediate highway design area, from Forest Lake to Chisago City, has 60 access points that conflict with moving traffic. (Eventually Highway 8 improvements will stretch to the St Croix River.)
Triplett said it is important to close these points, build controlled intersections and install more lanes and frontage roads for safety.
Improving the Highway brightens the outlook for economic development for the area. Triplett said relative to the eight miles of highway needing immediate attention -- the return on investment is well worth it.
He asked funding decision-makers to envision a Bunker Lake Boulevard or similar well-thought-out corridor. “The goal isn’t to make a freeway,” he explained Katie Malchow, Director of the Chisago Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, stated the highway is the main artery in the south end of the county, and right now it’s a detractor. The chamber stands ready to market the area as an attractive day trip from the metro, or a foreign tourist destination. “We are determined to get more people to visit,” she concluded.
The Minnesota House and Senate reconvene the 2020 legislative session February 11. The Capital Committee site visits reviewing requested bonding aid will continue through the fall.