Highway 53 funding part of bonding bill deal

Highway 53

State leaders are announcing that a $373 million bonding bill will be part of the upcoming special legislative session, including $140 million in funding for the Highway 53 relocation/bridge project that fizzled out at the end of the regular session.

From Patrick Condon in the Star Tribune:

Dayton has yet to call a special session, which could still come in the next few days. Representatives of the governor have been working with GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt to settle a few remaining disagreements in an overall budget deal, most notably a dispute over the responsibilities of Minnesota’s elected state auditor.

I’m hearing rumblings that the session could take place as soon as Saturday if this dispute over the State Auditor’s office is resolved to Dayton’s liking.

The auditor issue, explained here, is often pinned on Republican House leadership’s desire for the new privatization of local audits, but make no mistake. This provision was put into the bill because of the work of Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and other Iron Rangers in conference committee. And it was almost certainly put there as political retribution for Otto’s vote against new mining leases on the state executive committee three years ago, a revenge motivation that has already failed when some Rangers backed a campaign to defeat Otto and lost handily. In fact, Otto increased her margins.

This has to be the most dismal year of Iron Range politics in my adult memory. Power games, squabbles, broken relationships and all we’re going to get is a highway we already have. The best that can be said is that it really, truly appears to be almost over. And I predict that regional economic conditions will make next year’s session an entirely different ballgame. The depth of the problems facing the Iron Range are far greater than most realize, and we’ll need all the friends we can get.

That does not appear to be going well at all.


  1. Ranger47 says

    The existing highway 53 is on an easement granted to the state on land owned by the mining company. Based on a contractual agreement signed in 1960 by DFL’er Orville Freeman, Hwy 53 sits on private property and is not a “highway we already have”. It’s time to pay the piper and move the highway off private property.

    Minnesota, thankfully, hasn’t resorted to executive fiats like your president to just simply take the mining company land on which the highway sits. With your “all we’re going to get” tone, I sense you’d support that?? Either that or you think Orville committed the state to a bad deal.

    • Gerald S says

      Actually, to give credit where credit is due, the deal came through a legislature where the GOP ran both houses, under the guise of the “conservative caucus” under the old “non-partisan” legislature.

      Basically a typical shortsighted case of “let’s save money today and let someone else worry about tomorrow.” And of course both Freeman and the GOP leadership that passed it are all dead.

      • Ranger47 says

        It’s only shortsighted if we proceed to build the bridge. As Aaron said – “if you think that’s a good idea, nice”. Aaron asking his good friend Tom to initiate legislative action to stop this wasteful spending is a great plan.

        • Gerald S says

          No. We lose an important connection to Virginia and everything north, people and businesses will lose a large amount of money and time winding around back roads to replace the connection that now exists, and extra wear and traffic on those back roads will cost millions in added maintenance and necessary upgrades.

          If Freeman and the GOP had been willing to bite the bullet back in 1960 and either pay the cost of actual condemnation and compensation for the mining land or of building the road around the mining land in the first place, the entire thing would have been cheaper and better in the long run, no matter how we try to solve it now. But politicians have a lot of trouble figuring out that people in the future — in this case after they are dead — will benefit from costs incurred in the present, when the choice means being able to brag about how they “saved” money.

          Now either the taxpayers will pay hundreds of millions to fix this shortsightedness, or the shortsightedness will cost people and businesses tens of millions in years of extra expense and lost time due to loss of the direct connection, and taxpayers will pay to repair and renovate roads never built for the added truck and car traffic.

          Cheaper to do it right the first time, just like your father always said. And that still applies now, with other infrastructure projects.

          • Ranger47 says

            Hwy 169 now bypasses Coleraine, Bovey, Nashwauk, Keewatin, Hibbing, etc. etc.….speaking of Hibbing, as the well-known story goes, all of north Hibbing was once moved! In all cases, the roads were moved; towns were moved, due to mining.

            All were perfectly good roads connecting point A to point B, and were perfectly good towns prior to being moved. But when the time came, we moved them. Life went on and billions of mining dollars went to millions of Rangers who educated thousands of kids who had careers positively impacting millions of people throughout the world…including the Range.

            But now, Aaron wishes to live in Lake Wobegon where perfectly good roads don’t have to move, perfectly good streets don’t have to be widened, all the kids are above average, and can stay put and be perfectly happy. This place exists only in the mind of Garrison Keillor. Damn him anyway! for fooling perfectly good people like Aaron.

      • David Gray says

        Too much bipartisanship for your taste, eh?

        • Gerald S says

          R47, now I’m confused by you. First you were arguing for not rebuilding 53, in order to save the money. Now you seem to be suggesting that moving it is a perfectly natural thing.

          I have only two points here. The first is that the GOP and Freeman decision from 1960 is going to cost us a bunch of money in 2015, either for the whole cost of the bypass and rebuild, or in ongoing costs of fuel, time, wear on roadways and bridges not designed for heavy traffic, necessary rebuilding of those secondary roads and bridges, and congestion that will be paid by businesses, citizens, taxpayers, and local and state governments. That’s money that could have been saved if a somewhat more costly but more definitive solution had been used in 1960.

          The second is that efforts to save money in the present by failing to address definitive long term needs is not wise stewardship of our tax dollars, and will, as in this case, ultimately lead to much higher costs to the tax payers. The lesson from 53 is an important one that our leaders in St. Paul need to pay attention to in dealing with our current problems with infrastructure. You can summarize by quoting the aphorism of your choice. You can quote George Santayana and say “Those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.” Or you can quote Will Rodgers and say “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

          Or perhaps the best summary is the old Fram oil filter ads: “You can pay me now, or pay me later.”

          • Ranger47 says

            Ya, you’re right Gerald…just looking at both sides of the argument. However, being the existing road is going to get blasted, I agree we shouldn’t just leave it to chance as to how folks will get from Eveleth to Virginia. Building a bridge though(a really high bridge), over a water-filled pit, in freezing, snowy, northern Minnesota just doesn’t seem to be the best option. Construction cost aside, maintenance will be a nightmare. I’d go west, out of mining territory. It’ll be a nice tourist attraction though as we head up to IRRRB’s job creating showcase – Giants Ridge.

  2. Right now we have a highway that connects Eveleth and Virginia. When this is done, we will have a highway that connects Eveleth and Virginia. UTac has 10 years, tops, but that’s extremely generous. Probably five. If you think the $240 million bridge is a good idea, that’s nice. Good luck to you and have a fine evening.

  3. John Ramos says

    Personally, I think we should just close that highway and not build a new one. Whoever wants to go to Virginia can go around.

  4. Why yes, of course. We taxpayers should fully foot the bill to maintain access to what remains of a community, while distant shareholders can retain their precious profits and leave a giant, terra formed mess for us and our descendants to clean up, all to postpone the inevitable shutdown for a few more years. Seems cost effective and socially redeeming, much like the book “”God’s Little Acre”, with the father digging under the house for the imaginary gold. Somehow the state or feds “leasing” land for minjng, akin to leasing one’s new car to a demolition derby, regardless of public contention, is not questioned by certain commenters. Most likely, the public would save money by declaring sovereign domain, keeping the road and paying the employees ten years of wages while letting the pathetic, poverty stricken stockholders fight in court while the state invokes the 11th amendment. Such rational acts exist only in dreams, however. Instead we taxpayers will foot the bill for the road, the clean up and most likely the financial support of laid off employees much like LTV and National steel. Ahh, the beauty of true socialism for the wealthy and brutal capitalism for the public and workers.

  5. Ranger47 says

    We’re all in agreement, let’s just close it and not build a new one. The mining will continue, people stay employed and the state saves hundreds of millions. Orville signed a bad deal.

    Aaron, get your buddy Tom to move on this proposal.

  6. Ranger, there is no juice in not spending money if you are a politician. How can Anzelc curry favor for future advancement if not by spending our tax dollars on projects that make little sense? Our DFL buddies will gladly distribute this 140M to assorted companies knowing future benefits will come from it. Tommy Big A Anzelc knows this all too well.

  7. Ranger47 says

    I fully agree Ken, spending others money is what guys like Anzelc & Aaron are born to do. The problem is they’re so inefficient at spending due to the fact it’s not their money. On top of that, only about half the inefficient spending is beneficial, the other half a terrible waste.

    Aaron is in a quandary though. He wants the money spent, but just hates it when it appears it’ll benefit any entity with the word “company” in it. The irony is, on this one, the real benefit IS to the people..

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