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News Release: Highway 23 Coalition Takes on Washington D.C.

Bailey Hovland / July 15, 2019

On June 18, 2019, 16 members of the Highway 23 Coalition flew out to Washington DC to meet with legislators.

Coalition members met with Tamiko Burnell, Program Delivery Team Leader for Freight Management & Operations and others at the Federal Highway Administration. Last year, the two had advised the Coalition to enlarge its reach to include the entire corridor. This year, they discussed reaching out to MnDOT to obtain Critical Rural Freight Corridor Designation, the status needed in order for grant funding to be released. They advised the Coalition that there are various funding vehicles the Coalition can apply for, and each of these vehicles may require a different designation. The Coalition took these helpful notes under advisement until their return to Minnesota. Four members of the Coalition later attended the FHWA meeting while other members delivered invites for the Highway 23 Coalition reception to all the MN Legislative Offices represented along the corridor.

On June 19, 2019, the Coalition had coffee with Senator Tina Smith.  Afterwards, during her address to a crowd, Sen. Smith invited the Coalition to share a message about where it was formed and why it was visiting Washington D.C.   

 

The Coalition then met with Sen. Smith’s legislative assistant, Molly O’Leary, to share the Highway 23 Coalition's mission and purpose. O’Leary assured us that the Senator would love to support the Coalition in meeting different designation standards for funding.

 

At 10:30 a.m., Doug Calidas greeted the Coalition as Senator Amy Klobuchar’s Deputy Legislative Director. Filling in for Sen. Klobuchar's transportation specialist, Calidas promised to update both the Senator and his colleague on the Coalition's mindset moving ahead and projects for 2019. 

For lunch, the Coalition met with Ashley Jackson, Senior Director of Gov. Affairs for NAPA, at the Capitol Hill Club. Jackson set up all of the Coalition's legislative appointments in Washington D.C., aiding the group in reaching local Congress members and relevant government staffers. Her work was essential to the Coalition's trip out to Washington D.C., making sure that the group was able to relay their message to people as busy as Sen. Smith and Sen. Klobuchar. 

 

Afterwards, the Coalition met with Representative Collin Peterson. Despite being called away early for a vote, the group was able to convey a majority of its message to him. Rep. Peterson told us he would be the lead on a letter for any designation the Coalition may need, and that he would help our mission in any way that he could. His transportation specialist, Chelsea Cornett, was Rep. Peterson's liaison for the remainder of the meeting and made sure that the congressman would get the Coalition's full memo on upcoming projects, current goals, and recent progress.

 

At 2:30 p.m. Tom Emmer’s Chief of Staff, Christopher Maneval, and another legislative assistant sat down with the Coalition and said they would be more than willing to work with Rep. Peterson’s staff on drafting a letter to help attain the proper funding designation. 

 

The Coalition's reception was held at the Capitol Visitor’s Center at 5:30 p.m., and the group was told us that the Highway 23 Coalition's message was on point and very well executed.

 

On June 20, 2019, the Coalition began the day by attending Minnesota Morning with Sen. Klobuchar.  She recognized our group and was very kind to us, making sure to chat with us as well as her other constituents who were visiting. Following Sen. Klobuchar's Minnesota Morning, the Coalition had the opportunity to partake in a classic Washington D.C. walking meeting with Representative Pete Stauber. Rep. Stauber's chief of staff, Jeff Bishop, briefed the congressman on the group's goals and allowed us to share our message on a brisk morning walk in D.C.  Rep. Stauber is passionate about transportation in rural Minnesota and told the group that this administration is ready to invest in rural infrastructure. He said that he would sign on to a designation letter and gave us huge accolades for the work the Coalition has already accomplished.

 

Our final meeting was with Representative Jim Hagedorn and his transportation specialist, Kyle Pirron. Although Highway 23 only runs through a small portion of their district, they said they would look at helping with designation letters.

 

Upon arrival at the airport, Scott Mareck called Donna Boonstra, Chair of Highway 23 Coalition's Board of Directors, to let her know that he had talked with Serge Phillips, MnDOT's Federal Liaison. Mareck advised the Coalition to have its representatives address the designation letter to Phillips, which would prove to be a more successful move on the Coalition's behalf. All in all, the Highway 23 Coalition's travels to Washington D.C. were successful and provided the group an opportunity to share its mission at a federal level.

 

During the Coalition's stay in the Capitol, the group delivered to the following note to legislators accompanied by a document displaying the Coalition's priority projects:

The MN Hwy. 23 Coalition was formed to unite communities and businesses along the corridor from I-90 to I-35.  This connection is essential to the MN transportation system, its economy, and workforce.  

 

In this 13-county region we have garnered over 100 members along the corridor.  The majority of the members are businesses, but we also have 26 units of government and a dozen or so private individuals. 

 

Please allow [us] to share some statistics that you may not be aware of;

 

In the last 2 years since the coalition was formally organized, there have been 145 serious accidents with injuries and fatalities on Hwy. 23. 

 

Of the 145, 37 were in Stearns Co., 25 in Kandiyohi Co., 23 in Benton Co., 16 in Lyon Co., and less than 10 in the other counties along the corridor. 

 

There have been 13 fatalities in this period of time.  [Donna Boonstra (the Coalition's Chair) has] personally come upon 7 of those accidents on Hwy. 23 within minutes of them happening.  

 

Our Coalition is concerned about public safety and the need to have safe, reliable transportation that is crucial for greater MN.  4 lanes are safer than 2 lanes, and our Coalition's goal is a 4-lane highway from I-90 to I-35.