Now that the legislative session is over, we can take a breather and digest the work that our representatives and senators accomplished. Im-portant among that, for our region, was the Capital Invest-ment Bill, commonly referred to as the Bonding Bill. It was certainly a relief to see the final version of this session’s Bonding Bill included Pioneer Public Tele-vision’s request for new technical and broadcasting equipment and furnishings. These needs had been previously included in the 2016 Bonding Bill that fell apart during the final minutes of last year’s legislative session. It was disappointing to get so close and not be able to get the funding. That makes this year’s bonding bill seem all the more wonderful. This year, the funding for Pioneer’s needs appeared in the Senate version of the Bonding Bill right away. However, the House version of the bill was slow to come together and it wasn’t until the final days of the session that the $1.95 million amount requested for new equipment and furnishings was included. That made for some nervous times for the Pioneer ataff and for General Manager Les Heen who spent many days at the capitol working to make this happen.
The new equipment and furnishings are needed for the move into the new Pioneer Public TV studio and headquarters here in Granite. The new studio built and donated by Ron and Diane Fagen, is much more spacious than the old Pioneer facilities in Appleton and needs updated equipment that fits the space as well as new technical production and editing equipment. Pioneer’s $1.95 million request was quite modest when compared to previously-funded requests from Twin Cities Public Television and Lakeland Public Television in Bemidji, among others. Previous funding for public television stations elsewhere in Minnesota made it seem likely that Pioneer would be successful in having its request granted. However, in the political turmoil at the legislature that seems to be so common these days, nothing can be taken for granted. The hard work to make this happen had roots in folks from the area as well as the Pioneer staff and management. A special tip of the hat has to go the Rep. Chris Swedzinski and Sen. Gary Dahms for their support and advocacy on behalf of Pioneer’s request. Without their tenacity, this would not have happened and Pioneer would have had to wait to move into their new building. Now, equipment and furnishings can be ordered and installation can begin during the ensuing months. It will take some time for everything to be installed. We’ve heard that Pioneer plans to make the move to their new headquarters in stages, over the next several months. It will be exciting to see this all happen. * * * * * * Granite Falls, like many of the cities and counties along Hwy. 212, is a member of the Southwest Corridor Trans-portation Coalition. That group advocates for im-provements to Hwy. 212 and also to Hwy. 5 in the southwest metro area. Their biggest goal is the four-lane expansion on those ultra-busy two-lane stretches of Hwy. 212 on each side of Cologne. The SWCTC was successful in getting the 12-mile freeway built around Chaska a few years ago.
It has been working to have Carver County lay the ground work for the much-needed improvements west of there, on the route that most of the folks from our part of the state travel when heading toward the Twin Cities. This year, they succeeded in getting the legislature to designate Highway 212 as eligible for funding from future Corridors of Com-merce programs. That’s an important step because without those designated funds, it is unlikely that MnDOT would ever be able to fund these much-needed Hwy. 212 improvements. There are just too many expensive needs on too many other metro-area freeways, most which carry much more traffic than Hwy. 212. The state’s Corridor Commerce funds paid for the new passing lanes on Hwy. 23 this past year and have been used for many other statewide highway expansion projects that otherwise would not have happened. The SWCTC also secured funding for an additional interchange on the freeway portion of Hwy. 212, on the west edge of Chaska. Recently, the Carver Co. board voted to impose a half-cent sales tax that is dedicated to highway needs in their county, including many of state highways that MnDOT normally has jurisdiction over. The Carver Co. folks tell me that they are willing to pay for improvements to state highways because they feel that may be the quickest way to get them done in their fast-growing county. The funds will pay for environmental studies and land acquisition as well as preparing bidding documents and, most importantly, provide a local match that helps to move up the timeline on possible state and federal construction programs. Doing this is a bold move but the Carver Co. board members recognize that Hwys. 212 and 5 are the most important roads for their county residents and the roads that are in the most in need of improvements. Their county is expected to add nearly 50,000 more people in the next 25 years. Last week I joined a group of those SWCTC folks from Chaska and Waconia at the annual Minnesota Transpor-tation Alliance meeting in Washington DC. We were able to meet with each of the Minnesota congressional representatives and both of our U.S. Senators. Our message to them was that all across Minnesota, all the way to the South Dakota border, folks need these highway improvements. They will only get funded if there are federal programs to match state and local money build and upgrade the roads that serve our part of the state. Will this help secure more funding? Time will tell, but there seems to be a lot of interest in doing infrastructure improvements these days so we are hopeful. One thing that is certain: If we sit on the sidelines and don’t keep our needs out in front of the decision-makers, we will lose our place in line and will become invisible to them. As the old saying goes, “The world belongs to those who show up.”