It’s a long way, in more ways than one, from South Dakota to the country’s east coast. Last week it was a venture to the capitol city of South Dakota and this week it was in the opposite direction, eastward to another noteworthy capitol, Washington D.C.

We were part of a delegation of communities along Highway 212, traveling to the offices of many of our congressional representatives and senators drumming up support for funding for turning those two-lane gaps on each side of the four-lane Cologne by-pass.

Both of these busy and under-designed highway segments, between Norwood Young America to Cologne and between Cologne and Carver and Chaska are in Carver County, which has taken the lead on making this happen. Those of us to the west are regarded as valuable voices in this effort and the Southwest Corridor Transportation Coalition is glad to pay our way to attend this annual effort. It adds some important political clout when a project is supported and advocated for by others who live beyond the project area. WE are more than happy to do that.

We all know that this is our main connection to the Twin Cities (and their connection to us) but it’s also our connection to the interstate highway system. The traffic counts and the old 1930s-era design of those highway segments more than justify the proposed widening to four lanes. However MnDOT is hamstrung by lack of funding and Carver County is in MnDOT’s Metro District, which of course has many other highways to tend to, some of them much busier than Highway 212 west of Chaska. Never-the-less, the need is there and thanks to the Carver County folks, so is a good amount of funding for part of this effort.

As things stand now, upgrading the two-lane segment between Cologne and Carver to four lanes is estimated to cost $46 million. Much of the preliminary design and environmental work is finished thanks to a joint effort that has been led by Carver County and includes MnDOT and SRF Engineering and funding provided a few years ago, thanks to Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Several construction funding elements are in place now and we are inching closer to construction of that segment. Carver County has secured a $15 million Minnesota Highway Freight Program grant (which sunsets in 2022), a $13 million commitment from the MnDOT’s Metro District and $6 million from Carver County by way of their county-wide 1/2 cent sales tax. That adds ups to $34 million, leaving a $12 million funding gap. In the grand scheme of things, that seems like a fairly reasonable amount but is also still a bit elusive.

Our effort now is focused on two separate federal funding programs. With those in mind, we were able to meet with US DOT government liaisons who help to handle the administration of those grants. That gave us some insight into what they look for and how to best prepare these grant applications for possible funding. The good news is that many of the criteria that the federal DOT folks look for is already in place in regard to suitability and project readiness.

We’ll know more about these grant award decisions later this year. Meanwhile we’ll continue to work on moving along the western gap between Cologne and Norwood Young America. That segment is projected to cost $53 million and doesn’t yet have funding. 

Many folks in our area also travel Highway 23 and there is good news about the two-lane gaps on that route, either side of Paynesville. Funding for those gaps was included in the Trunk Highway Bonding portion of the state bonding bill. As of this writing, Governor Mark Dayton had not decided on which projects he would sign off on. However, that news will be made public this week as the governor is on a timeline to sign or veto that legislative action. We hope those much-needed safety improvements will get his signature and can become a reality.

We’ll share some more thoughts about these long-sought highway safety improvements as well as some more about our trip to Washington in next week’s issue. 

Most of us have a story, or have heard stories, about those large bull snakes that seem to always surprise us. There will be a good chance to learn more about these members of the constrictor family at the annual meeting of the Friends for Upper Sioux Agency State Park this Thursday evening.

The program about bull snakes will begin at 7 p.m. and there will also be an update about the state park and coming activities both before and after the program. Many folks think that the area around Upper Sioux Agency State Park is the most beautiful part of the upper Minnesota River valley. Come out there to see for yourself and learn some more about the creatures that inhabit our area.