Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, left, listens to Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair Dave Senjem, R-Rochester at the historic depot in Northfield Tuesday. Under a bill sponsored by Draheim, a modern transit hub built next to the depot, would be paid for with state bonding funds. (Andrew Deziel/Faribault Daily News)

The Minnesota Senate’s Capital Investment Committee kicked off a tour of capital investment projects across southeast Minnesota in Rice County Tuesday, visiting sites of several proposed projects supported by Sens. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, and John Jasinski, R-Faribault.

The tour was the fourth leg of the Committee’s five part “MNfrastructure” tour. The group visited the state’s northeast, northwest and southwest regions earlier this fall and will tour the Twin Cities either later this year or early in 2020 in advance of next year’s bonding bill. House members toured many of the same sites late last month.

At the invitation of Draheim, senators started off their morning at the historic depot in Northfield, where they talked about a planned transit hub that previously failed to receive a requested $2.5 million in state bonding funds.

The hub, which would be just north of the relocated 1888 train depot, is expected to cost $3.1 million dollars, with the city offering to pay around $600,000 from reserves, tax increment financing, other grants or debt issuance.

With the central location on the Q block between West Second and Third streets, the depot could be a community center of sorts within the city, with visions of art and music on its outdoor pavilion waiting area. From a more practical perspective, it would be within walking and biking distance of many city residents, and its proximity to rail would provide transportation access to the Twin Cities and other metro areas.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, chair of the Senate committee, said he was highly impressed with the successful effort to restore the depot — all done privately — and approach toward increasing transportation opportunities.

“Northfield is taking an innovative approach for a small community,” said Senjem. “The workforce needs now are tighter than ever and people have to be a little bit mobile. (Workforce mobility) is a big issue because not everyone needed to accommodate Northfield’s workforce needs is going to live in Northfield.”

The Mill Towns State Trail is another project of importance to the Northfield community. A perennial bonding request, the completed Mill Towns Trail would connect a key gap in the southeast Minnesota trail system, stretching from the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail in Faribault to the Cannon Valley Trail in Cannon Falls.

Currently, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources owns 9 of the 11 miles needed to complete the Mill Towns trail in Rice County, but the project has stalled for lack of funding. An additional mile was officially added to the trail in Faribault earlier this year.

After visiting Northfield, senators headed to Faribault. First stopping at the Minnesota Academies for the Deaf and Blind, the committee then made its way to City Hall to hear about several important projects, including a permanent solution to flooding at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, which sits along the Straight River.

With Minnesota the only state to have different parties in control of the House and Senate, Draheim is working across the aisle with Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, in hopes of bringing Northfield’s projects to fruition. He said he’s optimistic that the legislature could find the money, although a final bonding bill is sure to leave many regions with worthy projects wanting.

Overall, Senjem said that he was also pleased to see Northfield and Faribault make a strong push for a piece of the funding pie with well thought out proposals.

“What we’ve seen here in the Faribault Northfield area are good solid infrastructure projects,” he said. “We like that the local buy-in is there as well.”

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew. © Copyright APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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