By Rae Kruger
MARSHALL - The man who has a strong influence on how billions of transportation dollars are spent in the U.S. was very favorable Monday toward some proposed Minnesota Highway 23 projects in Marshall.
Photo by Rae Kruger
Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, left, listens as U.S. Rep. James Oberstar of the 8th District talks about federal funding for transportation projects at a noon meeting in Marshall on Monday. The Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce’s transportation committee held the meeting to show Oberstar and Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-Minn., proposed transportation projects for the Marshall area.
Eighth district U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, DFL-Minn., the chairman of the transportation and infrastructure committee, along with 7th District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-Minn., were in Marshall on Monday to hear the plans from the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce Transportation committee.
The committee wants an interchange at the intersection of Highway 23 and County Road 7 to control the traffic flow at the intersection of Highway 23 and Saratoga Street, an overpass or underpass across the highway near the Marshall High School and Southwest Minnesota State University and to expand Highway 23 to four lanes.
"It is timely," Oberstar said of Monday's presentation.
Oberstar said the federal legislators will soon continue discussions on the federal transportation financing plans.
An independent committee has recommend the federal government pursue $450 billion to $500 billion in transportation projects over the next five years, Oberstar said.
"That's the directive we are going to move toward," Oberstar said.
It's a big move, considering the current plan is $286.3 billion over the next five years and President George W. Bush proposed $247 billion.
It will take a strong bipartisan effort to get the money needed for transportation, Oberstar said.
But a project such as the skewed intersection of Highway 23 and Saratoga Street needs money, Oberstar said.
A consulting engineer working for the chamber transportation committee said the angle of the intersection of Highway 23 and Saratoga Street was skewed at a 30 degree angle, and the street and road don't match for a straight crossing.
"That's a clear safety problem," Oberstar said.
"We need to straighten out roads (where there are) dangerous intersections," Oberstar said later.
Oberstar didn't promise the Marshall committee would get all it was seeking, but he did say Marshall's proposals would be part of the discussion at the federal level, committee member David Sturrock said.
Oberstar ended remarks about the financing of various transportation projects with, "and you will be a part of it," Sturrock said.
Oberstar was very serious about listening and learning Monday, Sturrock said.
And Oberstar "is very serious about delivering," Sturrock said.
Oberstar was candid in his remarks at a luncheon and to media about how projects and needed money would be delivered.
"We have to have more investment...," Oberstar said.
Part of the increased investment will come from an increase in the federal gas tax, Oberstar said.
Bonding and toll roads and other money won't be enough, Oberstar said.
"You heard Oberstar say we have to raise the gas tax at the federal level," Peterson said. "We've just got to do it."
"You have to have vision," Oberstar said. "You can't just stand there and say it's costing too much." It costs companies to get caught in traffic congestion and be late on deliveries and then pay a fee, Oberstar said.
Oberstar had been in Marshall for 25 years and when came back Monday he noticed the number of trucks using county roads and Highway 23.
Every minute or hour lost in truck driving costs money, Oberstar said.
It's going to take state money and work from local people like Marshall's transportation committee to help get the money from the federal government and do needed projects, Oberstar and Peterson said.
The state government isn't doing its share to provide needed money for transportation projects, Peterson and Oberstar said.
"To me, the high point of transportation funding was (with) the former transportation commissioner under (former Gov. Jesse) Ventura," Oberstar said. The transportation commissioner and Ventura had a well-thought out plan, but then Ventura didn't do anything with it, Oberstar said.
The state hasn't recovered from that funding misstep, he said.
"Thank God the (state) Legislature passed the gas tax increase," Peterson said.
Oberstar praised state legislators for passing the gas tax increase, and then, overturning Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto.
Both men looked to the local transportation committee for leadership on the funding issue.
"What's been successful is to have coalitions like this," Peterson said of the Marshall committee.
Peterson cited the Willmar area Highway 23 coalition as instrumental in encouraging the expansion of the four lanes of Highway 23 from Willmar to St. Cloud.
"We've just about got that done," Peterson said.
"We're gonna make it happen and it's gonna take people like you and committees like this (to do it)," Oberstar said.