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Dave Olson, Published September 02 2010

Infrastructure projects focus of candidate forum

When it comes to funding roads and bridges in Minnesota, lawmakers face a big question: how to get from point A to point B when state government expects a budget shortfall that could reach $6 billion or more next year?

“This is a huge challenge,” said Morrie Lanning, who spoke to a roomful of area officials and residents during a candidate forum Wednesday at Moorhead’s Hjemkomst Center.

Lanning, a Republican from Moorhead who is seeking re-election to the House District 9A seat, outlined his priorities for transportation this way: “We don’t let roads and bridges deteriorate.”

Lanning said a lot of transportation construction is going on this summer as a result of state spending, including projects in Moorhead. He said he would support a bonding bill in the next legislative session that would put even more dollars into infrastructure.

Greg Lemke, Lanning’s challenger in the November election, said he would work for reliable state support for transportation.

“For the locals, they need to have consistent funding so they can plan their projects,” said Lemke, a Democrat and a member of the Moorhead City Council.

Keith Langseth, who is from Glyndon and the incumbent Democratic candidate for the Senate seat in District 9, said with interest rates low and construction firms competing for available jobs, timing is right for the state to borrow money to pay for transportation improvements.

“This is the time to bond and build for infrastructure,” Langseth said.

Jeff Backer, the mayor of Browns Valley and Langseth’s Republican challenger for the Senate seat, said he favors bonding for things such as road and bridge projects, but he said dollars are increasingly going to local projects, as opposed to statewide projects, which he said he would focus on.

“We need to prioritize projects instead of trying to do everything,” Backer said.

Margaret Donahoe, executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, which sponsored Wednesday’s forum, said the Legislature could do a number of things to give local officials more tools to fund road and bridge work.

She said current state law allows seven counties in the Twin Cities metro area to impose a $5-per-car fee that can only be spent on roads.

“The legislature could very easily say, ‘Well, any county could do this if they want,’ ” Donahoe said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555