Cathy Malecha and James Oberstar
The date to start a Highway 371 expansion project from Nisswa to Pine River could move up with help from an increase in the state gas tax and U.S. Rep. James Oberstar.
Oberstar, a Democrat who represents the state's Eighth Congressional District, which includes the lakes area, initiated a gathering with area politicians Saturday night at Rockwoods Grill in Baxter to talk about Highway 371.
The projected $90 million Highway 371 expansion to four lanes currently is slated to begin in 2014 in Nisswa, and 2015-16 in Pequot Lakes, with Jenkins and Pine River to follow.
After hearing mayors from those four communities talk about the Highway 371 project as it pertains to their towns, and the need to finalize the project and start date so their towns can plan for the future, Oberstar said, "There are ways to make all this happen."
Oberstar, who chairs the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said he could designate relevant pieces of the highway expansion project in next year's federal transportation bill. That bill will be good news for Minnesota, and rural Minnesota, he said.
"We can't continue to take a back bench to the Twin Cities," he said. "We're not chopped liver out here in Greater Minnesota, either."
State Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said money raised from the state's gas tax hike could, possibly, help move up the timetable for the Highway 371 project.
The gas tax will increase from 20 cents a gallon now to 22 cents a gallon on April 1. Another half-cent bump will come Aug. 1, and other 3-cent increase Oct. 1. Smaller increases are planned through 2012.
The four mayors are united in their goal to expand the highway as soon as possible.
"I think 371 is integral to all of our communities because we are a tourist area," said Pequot Lakes Mayor Cathy Malecha. "Bringing people safely to our area is important. The longer we stretch it out, the more expensive it will become, too."
U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn.
State Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker
State Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd
Nisswa Mayor Brian Lehman
Pequot Lakes Mayor Cathy Malecha
Jenkins Mayor Jon Lubke
Pine River Mayor Jim Sabas
Nisswa council member Kim Larson
Nisswa city engineer Don Anderson
Melissa Samuelson, Oberstar's field representative
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