DULUTH – Duluth's working seaport supports 8,000 jobs and, along with the port in neighboring Superior, Wis., $1.4 billion in economic activity.
That's a key driver for Duluth Mayor Emily Larson's support of President Joe Biden's $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill scheduled for a procedural vote Wednesday in the U.S. Senate, she said at a news conference Monday.
Minnesota members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and two of the state's business leaders met virtually to urge Minnesota's congressional delegation to support the bill, focusing heavily on its bipartisan nature. The eight-year plan would invest in public works projects, including roads, bridges, broadband, public transit and passenger rail.
Its passage could mean port improvements, expanded access to deepwater shipping channels and money for Duluth's massive "Can of Worms" highway interchange project, Larson said.
"The investment in infrastructure, for us, is about economic development," she said, noting its impact on access, safety and public health.
Mayor Marv Calvin, of Willmar, Minn., said the bill would dramatically change access to broadband for west-central Minnesota farmers, who now must drive to the nearest McDonald's for a wireless connection strong enough to do business.
The investments would be "transformative," Edina Mayor Jim Hovland said, noting that it would be the "single-largest dedicated bridge investment" since the interstate highway system of post-World War II.
"Here in Minnesota, of course, we know the criticality of those investments in bridges," he said, referring to the 2007 Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis that killed 13 people.
"This legislation would repair and rebuild bridges and roads with a focus on climate change mitigation," Hovland said.
Larson said the bill would help cities prepare for the impacts of climate change, citing the hurricane-force winds Duluth has experienced in recent years that compelled the reinforcement of the city's famed Lakewalk.
The bill would create a "once-in-a-generation investment in American infrastructure," said Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In a post-pandemic era, this is the opportunity to "reinvigorate" roads and bridges, he said, and invest in such areas as airports and water infrastructure.
Not all of Minnesota's congressional delegates, however, appear fully on board.
"Improving our roads, bridges, and traditional infrastructure remains a priority, but the devil is always in the details, which we still have yet to see, and I remain concerned that Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi will ultimately tie what should be a bipartisan transportation package to another partisan reconciliation bill," Republican Rep. Tom Emmer has said in a statement.
How much Minnesota could benefit from the legislation hasn't been determined, but a "collective wish list" will be ready if the bill is signed into law, Weinhagen said.
Jana Hollingsworth • 218-508-2450