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Transportation Department outlines summer construction plans
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Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau outlines major transportation programs. In the background is the Wacouta Bridge, scheduled to be replaced in one of the largest ongoing projects in the state. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

South St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, state Department of Transportation officials had a message for motorists: Prepare to spend some time idling in traffic.

"It's not something we're doing to them - it's something we're doing for them," said Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau, also the state's lieutenant governor.

Molnau and others outlined this summer's major transportation projects as part of Transportation Awareness Week.

Overall, the state will spend about $1.3 billion this year to continue or start about 190 construction projects. Of that, about $727 million will go toward 65 projects in the eight-county Twin Cities area, with about $568 million being sent to projects in greater Minnesota.

Of those, about a dozen are considered "major," including a four-lane alignment of Highway 14 from Janesville to Waseca and the reconstruction of Interstate 694/Interstate 35E interchange in the Twin Cities.

"There will be a lot of work zones," said Mark Panek, an engineer with the department.

Molnau said the temporary inconvenience of fixing and building roads would pay off down the line.

"The alternative is not great," she said.

Last year, lawmakers approved one of the largest single infusions of road-building money in history. But much of the money is borrowed, to be paid back with interest in the future.

Many DFLers said the interest owed on the bonds would reduce transportation funding in the future.

"Borrowing from the future... I don't think is a good strategy," said Sen. Sharon Marko, DFL-Cottage Grove.

She suggested that raising the gas tax would be a better option.

Republicans argued that breaking from the traditional pay-as-you-go approach to transportation would save money because the cost of acquiring land increases by the year.

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