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Bemidji projects included in federal stimulus package

The Bemidji community will see two road projects this summer, one a signal replacement, as part of $180 million in federally funded projects announced Wednesday by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The list of 60 projects for rural Minnesota is part of the $596 million federal economic stimulus package for state and local highway and transit projects over the next two years in Minnesota, spending that Republican Pawlenty said he would accept.

For Bemidji, U.S. Highway 2 will see major improvements on the roadway that rises over abandoned railroad track between its intersection with state Highway 89 and Wilton.

The $2.5 million project will begin in June and involves removing both bridges over eastbound and westbound lanes of Highway 2 over the railroad tracks and lowering the grade to improve safety.

The other project, replacement of signal lights at Paul Bunyan Drive Northwest and Ridgeway Avenue, will cost the city of Bemidji money. Slated for work also in June, the $66,000 in federal stimulus funding requires a local match of $66,000.

Both projects had been listed previously on economic stimulus "wish lists."

"These projects will mean jobs in greater Minnesota and lasting improvements in our state's transportation infrastructure," Pawlenty said. In a statement. He announced the program in a fly-around of rural Minnesota cities that did not include Bemidji.

"These road and highway projects are exactly the kind of bread and butter projects that we should have seen more of in the federal stimulus package. Unfortunately, only $27.5 billion of the $787 billion bill funds highway improvements," he said.

There was a dearth of projects for the region of the region. A U.S. Highway 2 project for Itasca County at Deer River will see $1.24 million to add a third lane, $1.78 million to mill and overlay the highway from Itasca County 18 to Deer River, and $2.7 million to mill and overlay Itasca County 6 from its junction with Highway 2 into Deer River.

The first two projects are slated for July, the latter for August.

There are no Koochiching, Clearwater or Hubbard County projects. Signal replacement is slated for at Grant and Utley in Cass Lake, but will require a $66,000 match from the city of Cass Lake. That project would be done in June.

Rest area and interchange replacement along U.S. Highway 2 will see $120,000 in federal funds.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that the rural Minnesota transportation projects will create about 5,000 jobs, Pawlenty said. Projects in the Twin Cities metro area are being finalized and will be announced in March.

Rural Minnesota projects in the package range from concrete rehabilitation on Interstate 94 near Monticello, to repaving Highway 75 north of Ortonville, to heavy asphalt and concrete replacement work on stretches of Interstate 90 in southern Minnesota.

Only projects considered "shovel ready" are on the list, with contractors for a first round of projects to be selected March 13 with work starting as soon as May.

The economic stimulus list of projects is in addition to the usual list of projects the state Department of Transportation unveils each spring.