Federal funds sought for planning

The Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments is seeking to break with tradition and use a portion of future federal funding for planning services, rather than actual construction.

On Friday, the council approved a plan for nearly $2.4 million in federal funds it expects to receive in 2021. Approximately $2.1 million would be used for constructing a Members Parkway extension and new street in northwest Rochester, and $300,000 would be earmarked for planning services, which could build on efforts outlined in Rochester's future comprehensive plan.

It would be the first time Rochester has proposed using the federal funds routed through the Minnesota Department of Transportation for planning services.

"We're in a time of change, and we need to do things differently," said Mitzi Baker, director of the Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department.

However, MnDOT planning director Ronda Allis, who works with the Area Transportation Partnership that must approve the planned spending, said the group that oversees funds for an 11-county area places a priority on construction.


Several local council members, however, noted proper planning can save money in the long run.

"Spending a dollar today to avoid spending three or four dollars on a road can be a benefit to everyone," said Rochester City Council member Nick Campion.

Other members noted planning dollars are needed, but not just in Rochester.

Jerry Vettel, who represents Pine Island, said his city has been seeking help to build a park-and-ride facility to accommodate commuters heading to Rochester, and Cascade Township Supervisor Lenny Laures said other communities have demonstrated similar needs.

"How are we going to all get a bite of that apple?" Laures asked.

While the proposal on the table was presented as a way to plan for future development of transit corridors and nodes in Rochester, Baker noted flexibility exists since the request doesn't specify a specific project.

"We're just allocating," she said of funds to be awarded in 2021. "It doesn't have to stay that way. It can change."

The Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments members opted to submit the request as proposed. It will be reviewed by the local partnership next month.


If the request to use a portion of the funds for planning is rejected, the $300,000 will be added to the request for the Members Parkway project.

In other business, the council:

• Amended the four-year list of Transportation Improvement Program projects to include an Ability Building Center transit bus, as well as a transit signal priority system and engineering and design services for Rochester Public Transit.

• Shifted plans for federal funds to advance a Viola Road project for work in 2018 and delay Second Street construction to 2019, which will allow Destination Medical Center planning to be completed before construction starts.

• Tabled dissolving the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee until a similar group is formed to serve under the Rochester City Council.

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