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State announces plans to speed up work on 12 highway projects
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Lt. Gov. and Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau takes the wheel of this truck as she and the governor announce the acceleration of a dozen highway projects. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty says work on 12 Minnesota highway projects will be speeded up because of a transportation package passed by the Legislature.

St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau announced plans to accelerate work on 12 highway projects Thursday.

Pawlenty pushed for a nearly $900 million transportation bill that borrows for road projects and uses federal funds. Pawlenty opposes a gas tax increase. Pawlenty says it's the largest single infusion of money into the state's transportation system, and will accelerate projects across the state.

"It is not the final answer, it's certainly not the only answer, but it's a very important step forward for Minnesota's transportation agenda," Pawlenty says.

"Despite facing the worst budget shortfall in Minnesota history, we were able to engineer an unprecedented plan for new transportation dollars without raising taxes," Molnau, who also heads the Department of Transportation, said in a statement.

Molnau and Pawlenty said speeding up the 12 projects will save about $140 million in construction inflation costs.

The projects are:

-Highway 53 in Duluth,

-Highway 34 in Park Rapids,

-Highway 371 north of Little Falls,

-Highway 101 near Elk River,

-Interstate 94 in Monticello,

-Highway 10 in Detroit Lakes,

-Highway 52 in Oronoco,

-Highway 14 in Janesville/Waseca,

-Highway 212 from Chaska to Dahlgren,

-Interstate 694/35E in Vadnais Heights,

-Highway 169 in Edina, Eden Prairie and Bloomington,

-Interstate 494 in Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Plymouth.

Work on the projects will begin by next summer and span four to seven years.

Highway 212 gets by far the largest share of the money, garnering $225 million out of a total of $825 million that was committed Thursday. Highway 212 was a major priority for Molnau, who's from Chaska, when he was a legislator. She called the project "easily justified" and said neither she nor Pawlenty had pushed for it.

During the legislative session, Democrats criticized the bonding plan, saying it didn't make sense to borrow money and pay interest over 20 years for a short spurt of road constuction.

Responded Pawlenty, "I don't want to hear a lot from the Democrats that this isn't good enough because they did squat under near-monopoly control for nearly 20 years."

Molnau says the state is ready to bid some of the projects, and work will start as early as next summer. She says they'll be completed in four to seven years.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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