Editorial: A state bonding bill could help jumpstart economy

Published 8:30 pm Friday, May 1, 2020

Much is at stake in the coming weeks of the Minnesota legislative session.

While this has been an unusual session because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope one thing will be consistent that was planned at the beginning of the session, and that is a bonding bill.

A bonding bill in previous years has been used to help stimulate the economy, and after everything that has happened in the last six weeks, that has never been more important.

In Albert Lea, specifically, there are several projects vying for state bonding dollars, including the flood mitigation project for East Main Street, the completion of the Blazing Star Trail and the dredging of Fountain Lake.

The flooding on East Main Street, a state road, has been a problem each spring when snow is melting and when there is heavy rainfall. It has led to closures as long as about two weeks, which hinders not only local traffic, but other business traffic as well. It has also negatively impacted businesses on East Main Street that customers cannot reach because of floodwaters.

This project is of particular importance as the state in 2021 has slated to reconstruct the roadway. If anything is going to be done to alleviate this problem, now is the time to do so. The city has requested $3.5 million for this project.

The Blazing Star Trail from Albert Lea to Hayward has been in the works for more than 20 years after the state Legislature first authorized its existence in 1996. Though the Legislature has authorized various spending for the project over the years — and most of the project is complete — the last step, the construction of a bridge over Albert Lea Lake and about half a mile of trail still has not been completed. About $1.75 million is needed for this project.

We hope this will be the year the trail can be finished and know it will open up the possibilities to bring in bicyclists and others from around the region.

The dredging is another project of big priority for Albert Lea and has been underway for two years. The $7.5 million in funding would allow the sediment dredged from Fountain Lake to increase to 1.7 million cubic yards as costs per cubic yard were higher than initially expected when the Watershed District previously requested bonding funds. This project not only cleans up Fountain Lake but serves as an economic driver to bring others to the community to utilize the lake and our local businesses.

We urge legislators to support these projects and to support other projects important to Greater Minnesota, including funding for child care facility grants, funds for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure grant program and funds to address the workforce housing shortage.

These projects were needed before the COVID-19 pandemic but are especially important now for Albert Lea and other Greater Minnesota communities as we seek to rebuild from the pandemic in the coming months.