Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz stopped in Winona today to showcase how the recent highway bill will impact area businesses.
The $40 billion transportation bill passed with bipartisan support in Congress last month. It provides funds to state transportation agencies to improve road infrastructure. Funds from the bill will help to repair the Highway 43 bridge between Minnesota and Wisconsin, which area businesses rely on to transport goods from state to state.
Congressman Walz says it's a vital artery of transportation in the area.
"For us to be competitive in the world, we need to have a world class transportation system, and that means roads, bridges, locks and dams, airports, rail, all of it, multi-modal," he said. "And this is a good start and I'm just proud this community understands this as well as anybody, and they built a coalition that our goal is hopefully we're going to get a 21st century bridge across the river."
The Minnesota Department of Transportation says the bridge project is likely to cost between $150-175 million from state and federal funds.
In 2008, the bridge closed for ten days when authorities deemed it unsafe because of rusty gusset plates. During that period, local manufacturers and retailers reported a loss of over $2 million. Hundreds of workers cross the bridge in both directions each day.
"Their fear is if we shut this thing down, we shut down commerce, we shut down business at a time of recession when some of them are starting to bounce back. It would be devastating," Walz said. "So we made that clear in the planning process that we have to take that into consideration because at the end of the day, if we do this right, the tax dollars that go into building this bridge will be paid back by the added commerce."
The Winona Area Chamber of Commerce says they're hoping that a plan to rehabilitate the bridge will provide certainty to businesses.
"Businesses are very anxious just to have an answer. Businesses don't like uncertainty," said Della Schmidt, President and CEO of the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce. "That's the number one thing is that we want to know what is the plan, and what is the timeline. Then we can begin effectively planning and preparing accordingly."
The project is still in the planning stages. Schmidt says that most area businesses want to see something similar to the bridge system that connects La Crescent to La Crosse.
"We would like to see four lanes," Schmidt said. "We would like to see two new lanes and then re-have the existing two lanes so that we have four lanes of traffic availability here in Winona connecting to Wisconsin.
MN-DOT officials expect construction to begin sometime in 2014.