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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hamilton and the North Branch Bridge

So what does Rep. Rod Hamilton’s experience say about the I35 bridge in North Branch?

Rep. Kalin (D-17B) has been working to get the North Branch highway 95 bridge over the freeway replaced, as well he should (press releases 3/19/2007, 2/8/2008 and 2/22/2008. Kalin has removed most of his communications from his own web site.). Roads and bridges are part of his work for the district he represents.

He claims to have secured the funding for it in the T bill passed in February 2008, stating

"We enacted the historic 2008 Transportation Bill to bring $15.5 million in new state funds to fix Chisago County’s roads, to replace the North Branch bridge, and start new commuter bus service."

It’s too early for Kalin to crow. He is not home free yet! It’s not over until the fat lady sings. Just remember Rep. Hamilton!

Kalin worked to get that bridge approved in 2007, but the Governor vetoed the bill. That should not have surprised Kalin because Pawlenty had given ample warning that he would do so if the Dems included the poison pill (raising the gas tax) in the legislation. Kalin and the Dems could have worked with the Governor, but they went for broke and the T bill was vetoed. Kalin and the Dems love to blame Pawlenty for that, but they are at fault for not heeding his warning. Sometime a person must take less than what is desired or one will lose it all. Kalin threw it to the wind and lost in 2007.

Kalin threw it to the wind again in 2008, only this time the T bill was passed, was vetoed and was overridden because six Republicans voted with the Dems, Rep. Hamilton included, who may not get what he was promised in the bill.

Will Kalin get his bridge? The transportation bill does not have specific language in it to replace the North Branch bridge because the language attempts to avoid the perception of earmarks. In reality, Kalin isn’t assured of anything because Mn/DOT will work with the legislative language and its ever-updated status on all Minnesota bridges. The North Branch bridge could be bumped out by many other bridges that need replacement.

On February 22, 2008, Kalin provided a press release, but did not state any thing about a new I-35 bridge in North Branch as a result of the T bill passage.

In March, Kalin said Mn/DOT had penciled in the bridge replacement for 2012 although he didn't give any documentation for that. He also said the City of North Branch had secured funding from Congress for it.

On April 11, 2008, Kalin stated "Passage of this [HF 2800] bill likely will allow the North Branch Bridge design to begin in 2008 with construction to follow soon after" (my emphasis).

Later in April Kalin wrote, "Because of partisan politics in previous years, the only major impediment to building a new bridge in North Branch was lack of state funds. The bipartisan 2008 Transportation Bill changed all that. Design on the new North Branch bridge should begin this year, with construction likely in 2009." North Branch city engineer, Julie Dresel, suggested 2010.

Was Kalin correct that all he needed was state money to build the bridge? No, because Rep. James Oberstar then announced there is federal money to the tune of "$7,120,745 for the design and construction of a new bridge on Highway 95 in North Branch." Without Oberstar and federal money, Kalin’s state financing was only a piece of the puzzle. The federal dollars came out of money left over from projects in the 2005 federal transportation bill. Oberstar pulled the strings for his buddy Kalin.

So it is stretching the truth to say as Kalin did above, "the only major impediment to building a new bridge in North Branch was lack of state funds." Kalin is just plain lucky that there were left over federal funds and that a Minnesotan is head of the federal Transportation Committee. Without those two factors, the bridge would still not be built before 2012.

But even with all these ducks in a row, will the North Branch bridge be built in 2009? The language in the bill does not bind Mn/DOT to replace it on Kalin’s desired schedule. Other bridges could easily outrank it, just as the Blatnik bridge in Duluth and the Hastings bridge did. Projects like the highway 23 bridge in St. Cloud or the Winona bridge have a way of upsetting well-intentioned schedules. Any day we could hear of the next bridge crisis. Will a local, safe, but functionally inadequate, bridge such as ours be bumped ahead of bridges ranked worse in safety?

If the bridge is actually replaced in 2009, doesn’t that imply that some other bridge in Minnesota had to wait? Some other taxpayers were bumped. Kalin just might be out of office before anything happens on the North Branch bridge.
    • Other runners are competing for the same prize money.
    • Sometimes the legislated rules are vague.
    • Some runners will trip you.
    • Some bridges on the course do fall down!
    • Some bridges on the course are constricted so you have to wait your turn.
    • You are one runner on the relay team. Without the others, you will not win.
    • You are running because you were selected and can be unselected very quickly.
    • You volunteered to run.
    • You are paid to run.
    • You can seize the prize only at the expense of all spectators who are taxed at the local, county, state and federal level to pay for the prize.
    • You pay a very small amount for the prize.
    • The spectators pay for the prize even if they don’t want it, don't use it or can’t afford it.
    • Don’t hot dog it before you get to the finish line.
    • If you get there, act like you have been there before even if you haven’t.
    • Tomorrow you have to start all over.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    Well, of course Mr. Kalin still has a couple, or so, of sharp arrow options in his quiver even if the North Branch bridge over Freeway 35at 95 should happen to be further delayed.

    He can always fall back to the "DEFAULT" excuses he uses frequently: "It is (former Representative) Pete Nelson's fault!" Or "it is Governor Pawlenty's fault!" Or it is failure of the Republican House members to be non-partisan on the issue.

    And if need be Mr. Kalin can go even further back up the bureaucratic chain and point out that it was the incompetence of the Lt. Governor who was serving as Transportation Commissioner that caused the problem!

    Mr. Kalin has adeptly turned to these "excuses" a number of times in the past so why not use them again. After all, what works, works!!

    Remember how Mr. Kalin intimated, when he was a candidate, that had he been the State Representative instead of Pete Nelson the bridge would have been built or well on its way?

    There's a big difference between promises and performance and Mr. Kalin vividly defines and delineates that difference. And we in this legislative district are paying the price.