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MnDOT decision riles rural lawmakers, and Murphy in particular

ST. PAUL -- Some rural Minnesota legislators are furious that the state skimmed the first $100 million from a new federal highway program to fill a Twin Cities' transportation funding hole.

Lawmakers became riled when they discovered this week that the first money available from a federal highway construction program Congress approved late last year will help fill a $300 million gap for Twin Cities projects.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has transferred money from several funds to make up for the hole, which it blamed in part on a two-year delay by Congress approving a transportation funding bill.

Bob McFarlin, assistant to MnDOT Commissioner Carol Molnau, insisted that rural Minnesota projects will not be hurt. By the end of the federal program, 54 percent of the new federal money will be spent outside the Twin Cities if Congress follows through with appropriations it has promised, he said.

If Congress fully funds the federal highway program, MnDOT estimates it would receive more than $2 billion through 2010.

However, since Congress seldom appropriates all the money it says it will put into transportation bills, it is impossible to say how much money will be received and how much will be spent in rural Minnesota. That is what concerns rural legislators.

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee was one of the most irate.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said MnDOT came up $300 million short in highway construction projects because it mismanaged its budget. The state has never "been at the point of being broke where they are today," he said. "We have always been flush with money in our road fund."

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Don Davis can be reached at or (651) 290-0707.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.