The four-lane expansion of Highway 371 from Nisswa to Jenkins is still planned for 2018, but money is tight.
“Funding is an issue of concern, but at this point we’re still pushing for 2018,” said Jim Hallgren, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) project engineer for the Highway 371 expansion. “But here again, things happen. We might get redirected. But at this point, we’re still pursuing the project as if it will happen in 2018.”
Area mayors recently raised questions about the project after hearing that two other state highway projects supported by vocal groups possibly would jump ahead of the Highway 371 project.
“Pequot Lakes has been very quiet because we knew two projects were ahead in the pecking order, and then we were next,” Pequot Lakes Mayor Nancy Adams recently told state legislators at a town hall meeting in Pequot Lakes. She called it disturbing if projects leaped ahead because of vocal groups.
“There are other projects statewide where the political end of things come into play,” Hallgren said. “I have heard of other projects where they have an organized effort and are pursuing funding through the political process. Whether they are successful on this project is anyone’s guess.
“Is there a risk out there? Yeah, probably. But at this point I don’t know how big of a risk that would be,” he said.
Six area mayors who meet regularly all signed a letter sent to area legislators, urging legislators to support MnDOT to keep the highway project on track for 2018 because the issue has dragged on for so many years and so many people are in limbo until it happens. The six mayors are from Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Jenkins, Pine River, Breezy Point and Crosslake.
Hallgren said MnDOT currently is initiating right-of-away acquisition for the highway expansion. In 2015, MnDOT will start acquiring those properties.
“In case money starts opening up, that will put us in good position to be in line to get stuff done sooner,” he said.
“Money is so tight right now it’s getting to be real competitive. And that’s unfortunate that money is so tight that people are starting to pick apart other people’s projects for their own,” he said.
Continuing the highway expansion to four lanes from Jenkins to Pine River isn’t scheduled until 2029 or beyond.