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Dayton unveils top 10 road projects for next construction season

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Gov. Mark Dayton's administration announced that it would direct $300 million to 10 highway construction projects that are meant to break bottlenecks and improve the movement of freight around the state.

Dayton said, "These projects will reduce travel times and improve safety for Minnesota citizens, and help our businesses transport their products more efficiently."

The Star Tribune reports the administration has dubbed the plan "Corridors of Commerce." Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said the plan is not just designed to relieve congestion but to do it in spots where it's hindered economic growth.

Zelle indicated that construction on five of the projects will begin next summer, three more are planned for 2015 and the final two in 2016.

The state will pay for the road projects through transportation bonds. Zelle said his department has enough debt capacity to include the new projects on top of other transportation funding plans.

The 2013 Legislature created the program by authorizing the transportation department to sell the bonds for construction, reconstruction and improvement of trunk highways.

The competition for the money was fierce. The department received 400 proposals related to 100 different road projects around the state.

Two of the ten projects are in the Twin Cities, the rest are spread across Minnesota.

The projects include new lanes on Interstate 94 between Rogers and St. Michael. It would also transform Highway 14 into a four-lane for a stretch east of Owatonna toward Rochester and from Mankato to Nicollet. The plan also will add passing lanes on a stretches of Highway 2 in northern Minnesota and state Highways 23 and 34. It would also construct a new freeway connection along Highway 610 north of Minneapolis between Interstate 94 and Hennepin County Road 81.

In October, the Minnesota Department of Transportation had removed the Interstate 94 lane expansion from its 20 year transportation plan.

Dayton and Zelle also said they plan to propose a comprehensive transportation funding package to lawmakers ahead of the 2014 session, it could include a gas tax increase and other new transportation-related tax hikes or fee increases. That is a change from what Zelle said just weeks ago.

On a tour of the state in late October, Zelle said he was unsure if there would be a push for a comprehensive transportation plan in 2014 or wait until 2015.

Dayton acknowledged it could be hard to win legislative support for a transportation tax increase in an election year, though.

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