Op-ed: Southern Minnesota Needs Real Infrastructure
By Congressman Jim Hagedorn (MN-01)
Mankato Free Press
Dec 12, 2021
During my time in Congress, building true infrastructure in southern Minnesota has been one of my biggest priorities. I have worked to promote projects that build and repair our airports, roads, bridges, railroads, ports, locks and dams.
Just recently, local stakeholders came together to celebrate the completion of the Highway 14 expansion project from Dodge Center to Owatonna. The completion of the Highway 14 corridor from Rochester to New Ulm, a project dating back roughly 60 years, has been my top transportation priority. I'm pleased to report that my work with the Trump administration's U.S. Department of Transportation secured a $25 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) discretionary grant.
This federal funding, combined with dedicated state dollars, have paved-the-way for completion of the last Highway 14 four-lane expansion from Nicollet to New Ulm. I'm proud of this bipartisan effort. Groundbreaking should commence in the near future and about two years from now we will celebrate enhanced transportation that will facilitate economic growth, transportation efficiencies, safer travel and improved quality of life for southern Minnesotans.
The Mankato Regional Airport also recently received funding to make changes to its airfield and update the airport's runways. I fought for this and am working closely with local leaders to gain authorization and funding for a new control tower at the Mankato Regional Airport, our state's busiest airport without a tower. Moving forward, this will provide additional safety as the successful airport and pilot education training programs continue to grow.
In addition, I worked to gain funding for the Rochester International Airport's substantial runway and lighting upgrade project -- critical improvements to facilitate transportation during inclement weather conditions of tens of thousands of daily time-sensitive lab tests, along with critical care patients and medical experts who travel to the Mayo Clinic from points around the world every day.
It is projects like these that will go a long way toward expanding commerce, enhancing safety and improving travel in our communities. It is critical that we focus on projects that will result in meaningful infrastructure investments.
Transportation and infrastructure have certainly been in the news a great deal recently as the House of Representatives passed two massive tax-and-spending packages. These two packages are inextricably linked, as the so-called "infrastructure" package was nothing more than a Trojan horse aimed at greasing the skids to pass President Joe Biden's "Build Back Better" reconciliation bill, the largest spending package in our nation's history.
The "infrastructure" package comes with an expensive price tag -- $1.2 trillion, with $600 billion in new spending -- and only a fraction of the new money goes toward what the American people would consider true infrastructure. Moreover, most of the new spending is not paid for, adding hundreds of billions of dollars in new debt that will ultimately lead to higher taxes, spur additional inflation and make America less competitive.
In addition to piling on mountains of new debt, nothing was done to systematically reform our transportation and infrastructure system. The package contains no meaningful improvements to the often misused and lengthy regulatory and permitting processes. Projects that take years to complete will continue to do so.
Even worse, we've now interjected new radical policies and ideas like the Green New Deal which will only compound our nation's infrastructure challenges, drive up the cost of energy, and make us dependent upon foreign countries like communist China. Centralizing transportation decisions in this way takes us further away from putting these decisions into the hands of elected local and state officials, where they should reside.
Without a doubt, there is a need for more transportation dollars, but we must fund projects in a responsible manner. That means being paid for, instituting meaningful reforms, and empowering state legislators, not Washington, D.C. politicians, bureaucrats and Green New Deal lobbyists, with project decision-making.
House Republicans put forth a vision along these lines. The STARTER Act increases funding for transportation and infrastructure but does so without mortgaging our children's future. It streamlines the regulatory and permitting process in order to reduce burdens on states and localities. And it makes permanent the BUILD grant program, which was so successful for the Highway 14 expansion, while creating direct set-asides for rural transportation projects.
For these and other reasons I strongly supported the STARTER Act, which invests $400 billion over 5 years.