Can a state agency simply refuse to enact an order passed by the Minnesota Legislature?
We are about to learn more about that question Thursday at 5 p.m., when the Windom Community Center hosts a meeting about Highway 60 (anyone may attend). On hand will be MnDOT leaders, area residents and lawmakers .
You've heard of the "weak mayor," form of city government. Are we looking at signs of Minnesota becoming a "weak legislator" form of state government?
Let me lay out the facts, as we know them:
A few months ago, the state legislature passed a transportation bill that ordered MnDOT to finish the 40-year-old Highway 60 expansion project.
Immediately after the transportation bill passed, staff from the District 7 MnDOT headquarters in Mankato began work on aerial mapping as part of an effort to update the Environmental Impact Study for the Windom to St. James section.
District 7 engineer, Jim Swanson, said MnDOT's decision on whether to complete the Windom-to-St. James stretch hinged on legislative intent. In other words, if it became clear that the bill was designed to include all of Highway 60, the project would move forward.
A short time after Swanson said legislative intent was the key, MnDOT's leadership at state headquarters and the District 7 headquarters received a confirmation letter signed by Rep. Bernie Lieder and Sen. Steve Murphy, chairpersons of the House and Senate Transportation committees. The letter confirmed - even stressed - that all of Highway 60 was intended to be completed, including the entire Windom to St. James stretch.
Following the receipt of that letter, Swanson said at a meeting that the legislative intent would be known at a June 16 meeting at the State Capitol.
The June 16 meeting was attended by key lawmakers from the transportation committee. They supported statements at the meeting stressing that all of Highway 60 was intended to be included in the state transportation bill. Not one word was spoken to the contrary.
OK, so the bill was approved and the legislative intent was confirmed and even stressed to MnDOT leaders at least twice. So the real question is this: "Who is calling the shots for Minnesota - the legislature, or department heads for the various departments?
If it's MnDOT, then maybe we ought to consider electing our MnDOT commissioner, just as we do county sheriffs and auditors.
In the meantime, I was impressed at the list of MnDOT leaders that will be attending Thursday's meeting in Windom.
The list includes Commissioner Thomas Sorel and several department heads. We need to credit MnDOT leaders for showing up and listening to our concerns.
If nothing else, we hope they learn the basics of the Highway 60 issue. This isn't about traffic counts, or accident counts. It is about this:
Long stretches of four-lane road are obviously confusing motorists when they hit our two-lane roadways. Confused motorists are driving the wrong way.
These aren't just isolated incidents. Stories like this are reported all the time. Just two weeks ago, a deputy reported that a wrong-way driver forced two cars off Highway 60 near Butterfield.
I'm sure it wasn't planned, but MnDOT created this recipe for head-on collisions by not finishing Highway 60. That leaves two options. Fix the highway - which MnDOT leaders admit has caused confusion - or answer tough questions when the inevitable disaster occurs.