Grand Forks Herald

By Ingrid Harbo

While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on Nov. 15, promises $1 trillion for infrastructure needs, infrastructure stakeholders in northwest Minnesota still have questions about how and when that money will benefit the region.

On Jan. 12, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., addressed some of those questions in an online meeting with representatives from the Northwest Regional Development Commission, Minnesota Department of Transportation, Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization and Rural Transportation Collaborative. During the meeting, they discussed infrastructure needs in northwest Minnesota counties.

Klobuchar spoke about passing the bill, which in the Senate was supported by all Democrats and 19 Republicans, including both North Dakota senators. With the bill now signed into law, the next step is getting money to the states.

“The most important part to you is getting the money out and making sure I understand what your needs are in your towns or counties so that we make sure we’re steering the money your way,” said Klobuchar.

Among those at the meeting, physical infrastructure needs like roads and bridges were the main areas of concern. The bipartisan infrastructure bill designates $4.5 billion specifically for highways in Minnesota, with $300 million of that number for bridge replacement and repairs.

Earl Haugen, Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director, outlined some of the East Grand Forks priorities for infrastructure improvements. Potential projects he hopes the infrastructure bill will provide funding for are new bridges connecting Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, and improvements to the U.S. Highway 2 and Minnesota Highway 220 intersection.

Haugen also expressed frustration in not knowing when money from the bill will be available and what projects will be able to utilize funds. Klobuchar explained the bill just passed and money still has to be allocated to states. Once it is allocated to the states, much of the money will supplement existing state grant programs.

Richard Sanders, Polk County engineer, brought up the Nielsville bridge as one priority for federal funds. The bridge, which has been closed since 2015, connects Nielsville, Minnesota, and Cummings, North Dakota . Sanders says Polk County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation have been on board with fixing the bridge, but because it connects two states, the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s lack of commitment has resulted in inaction on the bridge.

Klobuchar, aware of the problems with that particular bridge, said the fact that both North Dakota senators voted in support of the bipartisan infrastructure bill gives projects like the Nielsville bridge an advantage.

“We could really focus on some of these cross-state things because sometimes cross-state things don’t get as much attention,” said Klobuchar.

Klobuchar also touted the section of the bill dedicated to broadband, which she led in the Senate, with Rep. Jim Clyburn in the House. The broadband portion of the bill designates $65 billion for expanding broadband connectivity in rural areas, which Klobuchar says includes counties in northwestern Minnesota.

“When we look at your area, households in Kittson, Marshall, Norman and Polk (counties), there are many households that still lack broadband," said Klobuchar. "Kittson County is nearly 20% unserved, Marshall 22%, Norman 21.5%, and Polk 7.5%, so that means we’ll have ample reason to get money out to your areas."