Minot's northeast bypass project is a go.
The federal transportation department on Wednesday made secure the $14.13 million in funding that has been in danger of being rescinded by Congress. The project, which includes the 55th Street overpass, is to be bid this summer with construction beginning this fall. Completion could occur in the fall of 2012.
"It was good news to hear that they were going to authorize it," said Dana Larsen, Ward County highway engineer. "It made all the hard work worth it."
Sens. John Hoeven and Kent Conrad announced Wednesday that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reviewed the regulatory documents and released the money for construction on the bypass project on Minot's east side.
The $14.13 million will come through a competitive TIGER II infrastructure grant, awarded in October. The U.S. House voted in February to rescind the grant as part of a plan for funding government through the remainder of the fiscal year. The House plan canceled a number of previously funded projects as part of an effort to reduce the nation's budget deficit. The cuts included $3.7 million for United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck.
The Senate restored the North Dakota projects in its budget proposal but then failed to muster the votes to pass the bill. The government has been operating on short-term spending plans until Congress can work out a budget.
Meanwhile, the City of Minot and Ward County, in partnership with the state, have been working feverishly to advance the bypass project past the point where the money could be rescinded. That has meant getting the environmental study, rights of way and design work finished and submitted to the federal transportation department for approval before Congress could hatch another plan to snatch the funding away.
Larsen credited teamwork for saving the project.
"Everybody had to hunker down and work four times as hard to do what we needed to do to get it done in such a short time frame," he said.
He recalled working on the project late into the evening many times. Then he'd leave the office and drive by the project's engineering firm, Ackerman-Estvold, to see the cars still parked and lights on.
Larsen added that North Dakota Department of Transportation officials helped advance the project both locally and in Washington, and federal transportation officials in Bismarck also were supportive.
Conrad said it helped that LaHood has been to North Dakota and understands the infrastructure needs created by the region's oil development. LaHood has supported the bypass project from the beginning, he said.
The state's senators kept the reminders coming in recent days with their phone calls and letters, and as a result, LaHood wasted no time in obligating the funds as soon as the project paperwork crossed his desk. Typically, it takes a few weeks to get the federal approval needed to obligate funds, Larsen said.
Conrad said rescinding the funds and killing the project made no sense.
"It's in the national interest," he said "As gasoline prices approach $4 a gallon, the last thing we should be doing is slowing the movement of domestic oil supplies from the Bakken Formation to refineries."
David Waind, Minot city manager, said the oil traffic to the intermodal facility is just part of what is driving the project. Anticipated growth with the nearby agricultural park is expected to generate considerable activity, he said.
The city and county have sought the bypass and an overpass over Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks to prevent the backing up of truck traffic and to keep trucks from re-routing through town to avoid trains.