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Pawlenty touts highway projects in stimulus bill he doesn’t like

In a whirlwind tour of the state that’s certain to provide stimulus to airplane fuel producers, Gov. Tim Pawlenty is promoting some of the transportation projects that Minnesota will undertake with the stimulus money approved by Congress.

The governor has said he doesn’t like the stimulus bill, but will take the state’s share.

In appearances today in Rochester, Mankato, Cambridge, Duluth and St. Paul, all within about seven hours, the governor announced 60 state highway projects scheduled to begin in greater Minnesota as early as this spring. Stimulus funds targeted for the highway construction, paving, bridge and safety projects total $180 million, he said.

Pawlenty said the White House estimates that these statewide projects could generate as many as 5,000 jobs.

Projects in the Twin Cities area will be announced next month.

The governor brought new Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel on the trip.

“We will make sure that Minnesota’s share of the federal stimulus funds is used efficiently and effectively on shovel-ready transportation projects around the state,”  Sorel said. “We are optimistic that Minnesota will meet the required federal deadlines and we appreciate the support of our local partners and stakeholders.”

Among the projects announced:  concrete rehabilitation on Interstate 94 near Monticello, repaving Highway 75 north of Ortonville and asphalt and concrete replacement work on stretches of Interstate 90.

$596 million for state
The governor said Minnesota should receive more than $596 million for state and local highway and transit projects over the next two years as a result of the federal legislation.

Of that, about 30 percent of the highway funds are available for local units of government and 70 percent is for projects identified by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to meet the goal of the federal legislation to create jobs and improve the country’s infrastructure.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Gov. Tim Pawlenty

The bulk of the money will go for roads and bridges, with half of the funds targeted for projects that must start within 120 days.

In an interview Tuesday, Pawlenty, a Republican, told Politico.com that he doesn’t like the stimulus bill, for three reasons:

“One of them is, the federal government’s spending money they don’t have and they’re doing it at an excessive level … I thought it was telling to hear Secretary of State Clinton in China the other day … in a solicitous manner, thanking the Chinese for their continued purchase of our debt, how important that was to our country.

“Two, the bill was not targeted and focused on meat-and-potato things that we know will be stimulative and have worked in the past, like tax cuts and like basic infrastructure improvements.

“And number three, it didn’t live up to the promise of President Obama saying he was…going to usher in a new era of bipartisanship. Clearly [it] was a reply on the old, bipartisan fault lines, and I think with some modest accommodations or changes in the bill he would have received more Republican support.”

Today, in his speeches, Pawlenty continued that theme:

“These road and highway projects are exactly the kind of bread and butter projects that we should have seen more of in the federal stimulus package.  Unfortunately, only $27.5 billion of the $787 billion bill funds highway improvements.”

Joe Kimball reports on St. Paul City Hall, Ramsey County government and other topics. He can be reached at jkimball [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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