The Potluck

Capitol briefs: New Blatnik Bridge, new paid leave director

By: - August 21, 2023 9:27 pm

View from the top of the Blatnik Bridge looking toward Duluth, as the bridge undergoes reconstruction in 1994. Photo courtesy Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Gov. Tim Walz and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced an effort Monday to get $1 billion in federal funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to rebuild the John A. Blatnik Bridge between Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.

In a statement, Walz called the bridge “a vital route for regional commerce, tourism, and emergency services.”

The bridge is owned by Minnesota Department of Transportation and Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which have been working on the project since 2020. Each state’s department of transportation has pledged $400 million to the project and are expected to show the new bridge design in October. If funding is in place, construction would begin in 2027.

The Blatnik Bridge serves more than 33,000 cars per day and carries nearly 265,000 trucks, moving $2.66 billion in domestic goods and $1.07 billion in international goods from 42 states and nine Canadian provinces, according to a statement from the Walz administration. The nearby Twin Ports is the largest port on the Great Lakes and the 17th largest port in the United States, accommodating agriculture, forestry, mining and manufacturing, construction, power generation and passenger cruising.

Walz and Evers are both considered instrumental to the reelection of President Joe Biden — Walz as a key Midwest surrogate, and Evers as Democratic governor of a must-win battleground state.

Mass recruit

The Walz administration also announced the appointment of Greg Norfleet as director of the state’s new paid family and medical leave program, which passed the Legislature this year and will go into effect in January 2026.

Norfleet is currently chief operating officer for the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, and previously was deputy director for operations at the Bay State’s paid family and medical leave program, which launched in 2021.

Implementing the program is expected to be a significant challenge, requiring the imposition of a new payroll tax on both workers and nearly every employer in the state, as well as an IT system that will manage the program and the large amounts of data needed to run it.

Before working on the Massachusetts paid leave program, Norfleet was part of an in-house consulting group deployed on critical initiatives throughout state government on behalf of the office of then-Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican in the otherwise deeply Democratic state. Norfleet was a government innovation fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, and he holds degrees from the University of Oxford and Indiana University. 

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children