Local leaders talk transportation

Rachel Kytonen

The 2010 population of Minnesota is 5.3 million. There are 3.9 million licensed drivers in Minnesota, and 4.9 million registered vehicles. Seat belt usage is estimated at 90 percent. In 1968 there were 1,060 fatalities on Minnesota roads, and in 2009, with five times more travel than in 1968, there were 421 fatalities.

Transportation was the theme of the 32nd Annual Community Awareness Forum held Thursday, April 7, at the Cambridge Middle School.

Local leaders and interested community members heard presentations from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Northern Lights Express, and an update on bus transit.


Jim Povich, with MnDOT, began his presentation with a transportation quiz, and shared some interesting statistics on travel and safety and highway financing.

Povich explained last year, $90 billion was spent on highway projects throughout the country, compared to $400 billion in China and $500 billion in India.

He said Isanti County is in MnDOT District 3, which has 12 counties. The state has a total of eight districts, and of those districts, Povich said District 3 has the smoothest state highways; bridges in the best condition and the lowest fatality rate.

“That is a pretty good accomplishment for this area,” Povich said.

Povich explained District 3 receives approximately $60 million per year to make improvements to roads and highways, and maintain them. Out of the $60 million, he said $10 million is budgeted to make improvements.

Povich, who announced his retirement in a few months, said the next big project for the Isanti County area is the replacement of the Rum River bridge just west of Cambridge on Hwy. 95. The project, which is an $8 million project, is slated for 2014.

Povich said approximately 12,000 vehicles per day travel the roads throughout Isanti County.

When asked about the Hwys. 95 & 47 intersection, Povich said he didn’t know of any plans to change anything at that intersection in the next four years, or the Hwy. 47 & Co. Rd. 8 intersection (Mau’s Corner).

Of the $60 million that District 3 receives each year, $30 million comes from federal funding, and $30 million from state funding.

Other notes of trivia Povich added:

• The current federal gas tax is $18.4 cents per gallon.

• The current state gas tax is $27.5 cents per gallon

• If my car gets 20 miles per gallon, then I pay $2.3 cents gas tax per mile driven.

• Each penny of gas tax generates $30 million in Minnesota per year.


Northern Lights Express

“The Northern Lights Express High Speed Passenger Rail project is not dead, and far from it.”

That was the message relayed from Leonard Bonander, with the Northern Lights Express project.

Bonander acknowledged there have been a lot of rumors running around that the NLX project has come to a halt, but he insists that isn’t true.

NLX is a high speed passenger rail project that will run along a 155-mile corridor along existing railroad tracks between Minneapolis and Duluth.

Proposed station stops include Minneapolis (Target Field); Coon Rapids (Foley Blvd.); Cambridge, Hinckely, Sandstone (layover facility); Superior, Wis. and Duluth.

The proposed train will travel up to 110 miles per hour, and it will be around a 2 to 2.25 hour trip between Minneapolis and Duluth.

Bonander explained around four to eight round trips per day are being planned, and anticipated riderships is close to 800,000 per year.

He explained the environmental impact statement has been completed, and there aren’t any issues stemming from that. He said an alternative route analysis has also been completed.



He said preliminary engineering work will begin soon involving laser scans that will be used to map things out, and will serve as the basis for final engineering and specifications.

The cost of the laser scan will be around $500,000, and another $90,000 to do a computer model of the analysis.

Bonander said as soon as the environmental impact statement and alternative route plans are accepted, NLX can apply for up to $65 million in federal funding. Of that $65 million, 80 percent is federal dollars, and 20 percent is local dollars, and noted the state of Minnesota qualifies as a local match.

Bonander said current project cost estimates are between $650 and $700 million. The price will become more firm after the environmental and engineering analysis is completed.

NLX is a structured as a joint powers board working in cooperation with MnDOT.

Bonander said if everything keeps running on track, the NLX project could be shovel-ready by next spring, and noted the project does have bipartisan support.

“The NLX project is a stand-alone project,” Bonander said. “This project has to be automotive competitive—faster than a car and same price and cheaper.”

Bonander said the project will generate $6 million after the first four to five years, and the project will be self-maintaining.

Greg Owens, president of Community Pride Bank in Isanti, asked about what kind of jobs the project will bring to the residents of Minnesota.

Bonander said the train sets have to be made in America, and local contractors will be hired for the work.

“This is truly a job creator,” Bonander said. “We will use local gravel haulers, local cement people, local dirt movers, etc. We will use local people.”

As far as the station stops, Bonander explained it will be up the individual local entities to decide where to put the station, and how the station will be comprised.


Bus Service

Sue Larson, who serves on Isanti City Council, and is on the local transit bus committee, explained the bus transit system is looking at park and ride locations, and looking toward providing transportation toward the Cities.

She said approximately 16,000 people in Isanti County work in the Twin Cities, and the transit service is looking at providing a system to transport residents down to Bunker Lake Boulevard.

Larson said a park and ride service from Cambridge would need 50 committed riders per day to be successful, and it would cost one rider approximately $1,000 per year to ride the bus.

Larson said discussions are still taking place regarding shuttle connections once a person reaches their stop in Blaine.