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City Councilors' View: Federal infrastructure bill 'a winner for Duluth,' the Northland

From the column: "We may be headed for a shortage of orange construction cones soon if Congress does the right thing and votes to bring these dollars to Duluth and all of Minnesota."

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Dick Wright / Cagle Cartoons
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Every year, candidates for public office on both sides of the aisle run on the platform of fixing our infrastructure. From city council to Congress, politicians (including us) point out the need to better prioritize our roads, bridges, pipes, and, more recently, better broadband internet. Rebuilding our infrastructure is one of the few issues in these divisive political times around which most everyone can still rally.

With the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act nearing final votes in Washington, D.C., we have an opportunity unlike any other in recent history to support transformational funding for an issue as American as baseball, apple pie, and hot dogs.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, led by President Joe Biden — and supported by Mayor Emily Larson, as part of a national call with the U.S. Conference of Mayors — is slated to bring eye-popping investment to Minnesota. There’s $4.5 billion for highways, $302 million for bridges, $820 million for public transit, and $68 million to expand electric vehicle charging capacity. This once-in-a-generation opportunity would significantly move the needle for Minnesota’s overall infrastructure, which received a “C” grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers on its recent report card, in a way that also addresses climate-change mitigation, equity, and resilience.

Not only would the proposed legislation increase the safety and quality of our roads and bridges, it would create family-sustaining construction jobs throughout Minnesota. Moody’s Analytics projects that more than 650,000 jobs could be created if the bill is approved. Georgetown University experts estimate that could push above 1 million jobs, including spinoff employment in sectors important to our regional economy like the taconite industry on the Iron Range and manufacturing in the Twin Ports.

Beyond roads and bridges, the bill offers a whole host of forward-thinking investments that will make our national transportation networks safer, more modern, and friendlier to all users. An allocation of $5 billion is included for Safe Streets for All, a program that works to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. There’s $39 billion to upgrade public transit; $66 billion for passenger rail, which could help projects like the Northern Lights Express; $25 billion for airports; and $17 billion for port infrastructure, which could lead to significant investment in our working harbor here in Duluth.

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Rounding it out, the $55 billion for clean drinking water and $65 billion to build out more broadband internet will positively impact the daily lives of Minnesotans.

Finally, there is $1 billion set aside in the proposal to study and fund projects like what has been proposed by the Duluth Waterfront Collective, regarding the reimagining of the downtown I-35 corridor, a topic the City Council will be discussing later this month.

Add it all up, and this bill is a winner for Duluth, as well as all of Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin. We may be headed for a shortage of orange construction cones soon if Congress does the right thing and votes to bring these dollars to Duluth and all of Minnesota.

As the elected leaders of the Duluth City Council, we respectfully ask the members of our Minnesota congressional delegation to support this amazing opportunity for our communities, our skilled trades, and our businesses in the state.

Arik Forsman is vice president and an At Large member of the Duluth City Council. Renee Van Nett is council president and represents District 4 on the council, which includes Duluth Heights, Piedmont Heights, Lincoln Park, and parts of West Duluth. They wrote this for the News Tribune.

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