The New Normal?

As the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for this area, it’s our job to work with local jurisdictions to identify, plan for and program how federal transportation funds get used in the region.  We’re already working to line up funding for construction projects that won’t begin until 2017.

Those funds, not surprisingly, have become a lot more scarce.

Last year, as part of developing the TIP, (Transportation Improvement Program), a document that allows Duluth Area communities to use federal transportation dollars, we were talking about divvying up about $7.5 million in federal highway transportation funds for local roadway projects throughout Northeast Minnesota.

This year, the funding allocation for the same area is about $5 million.  Of that amount, $2.1 will go for projects to improve roads and transit services throughout Duluth, Hermantown and Proctor.

Spending to Meet Performance Goals

So, working within the “new normal” of funding restraints, it’s more important than ever to decide on projects that will fix critical maintenance needs.  (Not to mention, new construction is pretty much off the table). These federal dollars do have strings attached: they need to be spent on projects that will meet performance goals, i.e., to improve safety and traffic flow, in measurable ways.

Every year, jurisdictions in the Duluth metro (the Cities of Duluth and Hermantown as well as St. Louis County) tell us which projects they’d like to use federal funds for and we work with our Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and Policy Board to decide which ones are the most important.

We Want to Hear from You

Transportation projects are public facilities and services funded with taxpayer dollars, and therefore local citizens have a right to weigh in on such decisions, along with the planners, engineers and elected officials.

This year, the following transportation projects are being proposed by the City of Duluth, St. Louis County and the Duluth Transit Authority for our area:

  • Mesaba Ave Repairs – Concrete and joint repairs from Central Entrance to I-35 and repairs to bridges over Superior Street and 2nd Ave West
  • East 4th Street Repairs – Mill & overlay, safety improvements and ADA improvements (pedestrian ramps) from 6th Avenue East to Wallace Avenue
  • DTA STRIDE Buses – Purchase of three STRIDE replacement buses to maintain existing fleet to safety, comfort, and efficiency standards

Do you have any opinions

…about the importance of these proposed projects to our area?

Talk to Us – Online, In Person or by Phone:

  1. Make a comment, below,  or
  2. Stop by our office at 221 West First Street, ARDC entrance on the Skywalk level, or
  3. Call me with questions or comments–Robert Herling at (218) 529-7573.

Although it’s only March 2013, NOW is the time to give us your input on these proposed projects before funding decisions are made for 2017.

You have three ways to let us know.

Oh, that “TIP” thing again.

Yup.  Summer is finally once again upon us, and in the world of transportation planning that means two things: heeere comes construction season… and that “TIP” thing where we line up projects for the next four construction seasons.

TIP stands for Transportation Improvement Program.  It’s an annually-updated document that allows Duluth Area communities to apply federal transportation funds to specific transportation projects.

For those of you who are policy-people or transportation wonks, the TIP document describes all the policies and processes involved.

But for those of you who are just interested in what local and regional projects are being planned for 2013 through 2016 (the big ones that use federal funds), they’re summarized by year in the project tables starting on page 8 of the draft TIP document.

But here’s just a few that might interest you:

  • City of Duluth – Connecting the Munger Trail to the Lakewalk (a.k.a. the Cross City Trail)
  • St. Louis County – Reconstruction of Haines Road (from W 8th St to Morris Thomas Rd)
  • Hermantown – Reconstruction of Stebner Road (from Maple Grove Rd to Hwy 53)

And if anything prompts you to ask questions, or causes a desire to comment, please do!

Tuesday, May 29th will be the start of an official public comment period that will last until Wednesday, June 27th.  The Duluth-Superior MIC encourages anyone interested in providing their input on the TIP or its projects to comment here or to contact us.

The MIC also plans to hold two “TIP Open House” hours from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 28th and Friday, June 29th.  This is a great opportunity to come visit us, look over some maps, and talk to staff in person about transportation projects in the area.

Duluth-Superior’s Harbor Technical Advisory Committee: A Model for Successful Stakeholder Participation & Coordination

Aerial view of the Ports of Duluth-Superior “A committee that actually gets work done”

The HTAC is a working group for addressing challenges and opportunities in the Duluth-Superior harbor, while promoting the port’s economic and environmental importance to both communities.

It is one of three advisory committees to the Metropolitan Interstate Council (MIC), the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Duluth-Superior urbanized area.

And it is unique–the only stakeholder group of its kind in the country.

More important, it is, in the words of former Duluth Seaway Port Authority Director Adolf Ojard, “a committee that actually gets work done.”

Complexity, Controversy and Collaboration

Port-centered issues are usually complex, often controversial and sometimes downright contentious: dredged material management; marine safety; port security; land and recreational uses; economic development proposals; accelerated corrosion of maritime infrastructure; ballast water and invasive species management; legacy environmental degradation and habitat restoration initiatives –to name a few.

None of these problems affects one group alone, and none can be addressed except through the coordinated action of many diverse organizations and individuals. The HTAC has emerged as a national model for doing just that, through planning, collaboration, information sharing and long-term institutional involvement.

Its diverse members all hold a stake in the continued success and health of the harbor. Participation on the HTAC encourages representatives from industry, government, academic, environmental, regulatory and citizen groups on both sides of the bridge to recognize that although they have distinct missions they also have shared goals.

HTAC members, in other words, are genuine stakeholders who have, over its 20-year history, learned the value of playing nice and working hard together.

Result: a new paradigm for dredge material handling

Aerial view of Erie Pier re-engineered as a PRFOne recent example of the HTAC’s successful, collaborative planning process is what’s happening at Erie Pier. It might seem a little hard to get excited about this “hidden in plain sight” facility on the Duluth waterfront—but it represents an entirely new paradigm for dredge material handling.

Thanks to the efforts of many HTAC members who undertook an intensive multi-year planning process, and to the US Army Corps of Engineers which subsequently agreed to make a significant investment in redesigning and re-engineering the facility, a major physical restructuring of the full-to-capacity Contained Disposal Facility at Erie Pier was undertaken to convert it to a Recycle-Reuse Facility.  It utilizes hydraulic sorting to separate out the clean, uncontaminated sand and silt that’s dredged from the shipping channels for reuse in large-scale projects such as road construction and landfill cover.

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority now manages Erie Pier dredge materials as a valuable, re-usable resource instead of a waste product.  By creating a cost effective and environmentally sound alternative to standard dredge material disposal practices, it will save local taxpayers the millions of dollars it would have cost to develop a new CDF.

Sincerest form of flattery

It also has the potential to change the way other Great Lakes ports manage their dredging operations.  Erie Pier has recently gained the attention of the Canadian federal government, which is looking at the Erie Pier facility as a model for a new hydraulic sorting procedure at one or more of their dredging sites.

Most port communities face similar challenges.  For this reason, we’ve been invited to present the HTAC model at many national-level planning and port conferences in recent years.

More Information/Get Involved

You can follow or participate in this notable initiative that’s happening right here in Duluth-Superior.  For more information or to get on our meeting mailing list, check out the HTAC page on the MIC website at

Writing credit: Andy McDonald contributed to this article.

Photo credits:
Duluth-Superior Harbor aerial view – Gary Lidholm, USDA Forest Service, Superior National Forest

Erie Pier aerial view – Google Earth 2010