MOORHEAD — Moorhead and Clay County were big winners in the $1.9 billion public works infrastructure bonding bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature and waiting for Gov. Tim Walz's signature.
The biggest chunk of local money will be $62 million that the Minnesota Department of Transportation will spend for a second railroad underpass in the city.
The underpass on 11th Street in the downtown area still needs to be designed so work isn't expected to start until 2023. The other major $53 million underpass on Main Avenue and 20th Street that started three years ago is slated to be completed next summer.
The bill also includes $7.5 million to help build a new resource recovery or solid waste transfer station in north Moorhead and $5.34 million for an expansion and renovation of the Minnesota National Guard Armory in the northern part of the city.
The city is also listed as sharing in $17 million for flood control money.
Minnesota State University Moorhead is also potentially going to share in some funding from the state system for maintenance projects, although Chief Marketing Officer Kirsten Jensen said the $17.3 million Weld Hall renovation project wasn't approved this year.
State Rep. Paul Marquardt, D-Dilworth, said a key to the passing of the bill that has been stalled over political infighting since last winter was a $200 million tax cut which he wrote on business and farming equipment. Other legislators said they considered it a bill that will give residents jobs and boost the state economy.
The bill passed the House on a 100-34 vote on Wednesday, Oct. 14, and the Senate on a 64-3 vote on Thursday. Oct. 15.
"Overall, this is a huge win for our area if you look at the dollars and all the projects. This is our biggest bonding bill in history and our area will probably get $90 million for projects. It's going to be big for our area," Marquart said.
State Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, added, "It's a good day for Minnesota, especially for our region. We did very well in this bonding bill."
Funding for the railroad underpass in downtown Moorhead had city officials almost giddy on Thursday as residents have been complaining about traffic delays and public safety issues because of trains for years.
"This is a long time coming for Moorhead," said Mayor Johnathan Judd in a statement. "The public safety concerns and traffic gridlock issues that our citizens face daily will be addressed with this project. This is a major infrastructure project that is a complete game changer for our development plans for downtown."
Governmental Affairs Director Lisa Bode received word from MnDOT on Thursday that the railroad grade separation money in the bill will indeed be used for the Moorhead project, which was listed on the department's project list as a No. 1 priority.
Bode said the state's investment in Moorhead for railroad safety was "phenomenal" and that it happened in a rather short period of time as far as construction goes.
"This is just terrific," she said. "It'll make a huge difference in safety and commerce downtown."
State Rep. Ben Lien, D-Moorhead, said he thinks the city has been attempting to receive funding for such a project for decades.
"It's just a great bill for Moorhead," said Lien, who is leaving the state Legislature this year after serving four terms.
Another project waiting a long time for funding was the Clay County solid waste facility, said Kirk Rosenberger, the county's solid waste management director.
He said the Legislature had approved $600,000 for engineering and designing of the station in 2014, so they have been waiting six years for funding to go ahead with the project.
The county will share in the cost of the project that has an estimated $14 million price tag. Rosenberger said all of the drawings are ready and the next step will be bidding the project at 15th Avenue and 34th Street North.
He would like to see the project get started yet this year, but thinks it will likely be next spring. It's estimated to take about 15 months to complete. The huge new building will allow for better separation of recyclables, new space for electronic and hazardous waste collection and the addition of solid waste offices.
"It'll be way more user-friendly for residents," he said.
The $5.34 million for the Moorhead Readiness Center will pay for design work and renovation of the National Guard armory at 1002 15th Ave. N. as well as an addition.
Public Affairs Officer Maj. Scott Hawks said work will include energy efficiency, mechanical and electrical work and life safety improvements.
It's believed not much work has been done on the armory since it was built 32 years ago.
As for MSUM, Jensen is hoping the state system will use some of its $46 million in "preservation funding" statewide for a $7.3 million heating and mechanical upgrade in Bridges Hall, $1.2 million for accessible ramps and door and window replacement at Murray Hall and $523,000 for a chilled water system upgrade for Roland Dille Center for the Arts.
Meanwhile, Marquardt said the flood control money will also go to Hawley, Hendrum and Halstad in the area, with Moorhead's funding likely going to button up Oakport annexation flood protection.
In other area projects, the bill includes $1.85 million for the Becker County Museum in Detroit Lakes, $2 million for the Heartland Trail connecting Detroit Lakes and Frazee and $2.1 million for renovation and an addition at the Fergus Falls National Guard Readiness Center.