Feds to fund 169 project

by Tom Coombe

The long wait for funding to improve Highway 169 may be over.<BR><BR>Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives was set to pass a transportation bill that includes more than $14 million in federal money for safety improvements to the much-traveled roadway between Ely and Virginia, much to the delight of area citizens who have worked for several years to advance the project.<BR><BR>US. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D) had pursued funding for the project through updates to the Transportation Efficiencies Act initiative.<BR><BR>Friday morning, Oberstar said that the act includes $275 billion over six years for the nation’s highways, public transit, safety and research program, with over $90 million set aside for 46 projects in Oberstar’s Eighth Congressional List.<BR><BR>Topping that list is a $14.3 million set-aside for 169, to pay for the construction of safety turn lanes, dedicated passing lanes and intersection improvements.<BR><BR>Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Duluth office has also received $2.8 million for improvements to 169 including new overlay and a turn lane between Rice River and Tower, culverts between Ely and Soudan, and spot overlay on 26 miles of roadway.<BR><BR>The approval of over $17 million in funding for the highway follows nearly a decade of lobbying by project supporters.<BR><BR>A 169 task force, bringing together representatives of several entities between Ely and Virginia, was formed in the wake of citizen concerns and several meetings in 2000 and 2001 produced a recommendation for more than $43 million in improvements and reconstruction.<BR><BR>Original work completed by the task force called for initial efforts to corral more than $14.5 million, $1 million of safety improvements such as turn lanes, signage and lighting and $13.5 million for right-of-way, engineering and reconstruction of roadways in the Soudan and Eagles Nest areas. The group also recommended $29 million-plus for various other priorities for reconstruction along the roadway between Virginia and Ely.<BR><BR>It appears that the federal and state funding will allow for the various safety improvements to be completed.<BR><BR>Had the project not been included in the TEA bill, federal funding to pay for the upgrades to 169 may not have been available until 2020.<BR><BR>Members of the Highway 169 Task Force will reconvene later this month to discuss the project. A meeting has been set for April 29 at the Tower Civic Center (6:30 p.m.).<BR><BR>Andy Hubley, who facilitated task force activities for the Arrowhead Regional Development Council, is scheduled to attend the public meeting and present an update on the 169 project as well as other area highway projects.<BR><BR>The TEA bill also includes federal money for other area road projects, including:<BR><BR>• $3 million to develop a plan for an economic development corridor between Ely and Aurora, including a new highway between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes;<BR><BR>• $1 million for roadway reconstruction, curb and gutter, sidewalk replacement and utility upgrades associated with the Highway 21 improvement project;<BR><BR>• $2.7 million to complete the last remaining segment of the 132-mile Mesabi Trail, a bike path between Grand Rapids and Ely.