Study on Highway 23 to start around Paynesville.

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 1/24/01.

A study will determine whether a four-lane highway is needed around Paynesville.

An environmental impact study (EIS) is scheduled to start this summer. The city of Paynesville and Paynesville Township requested the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) do the study in 1997 so an area could be preserved for future road development.

Currently, MnDOT's four-lane expansion plan ends at Richmond and at New London. This expansion should start this summer to the east and could start in 2003 in the west.

The section between, which includes Paynesville, will be preserved as a two-lane highway. "Studies show there is a significant drop-off in traffic flow once you're past County Road 22 by Richmond," said Mike Travis, MnDOT District 3 information officer.

If the EIS study shows traffic flow merits a four-lane highway, a corridor will be established, said Lowell Flaten, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) District 8 engineer. To merit a four-lane highway, traffic counts in a 20-year projection needs to show 10,000 vehicles per day pass through on Highway 23.

Traffic counts are compiled every two years, Flaten said. A new traffic study in which MnDOT looks at origin of destination is needed, he added. This study would show how many people drive through Paynesville or to Paynesville.

"We're pretty much in the preliminary stages where Paynesville is concerned," said Flaten. The EIS is expected to take 18 months or longer. MnDOT will look at alternatives so business or residential development would not interfere with the highway corridor, he added.

The EIS will also look at the environmental, economic, and social impact as to how the traffic patterns will affect the nature of Paynesville as it is today.

Flaten said the EIS study will look at the environmental impact on a couple of routes south of town, a route through town, and a couple of routes north of town.

Dennis Wilde, Paynesville city administrator, said MnDOT can release the corridor for development if the construction plans change.

If anything is done to Highway 23 around Paynesville, construction is not expected to take place for 18 years, according to Flaten.

I-94 to Richmond
The work from I-94 to Richmond will be done in four phases. Phase one, which starts in June, will cost about $12 million. Phase one extends the four lanes from where they currently end by I-94 to a mile west of Rockville.

Then a by-pass will be constructed, taking traffic south of Rockville.

The first phase is about 6.35 miles and is expected to be completed in 2002.

"The majority of the road construction will run parallel with the existing Highway 23," Travis said.

The second phase would extend the roadway from Rockville to just east of Cold Spring, a 2.2-mile stretch.

Phase two includes a frontage road from Gold'n Plump to where Main Street connects with Highway 23 outside of Cold Spring. This stage is expected to cost about $1.2 million and be completed in 2003.

The third stage would take the four-lane road through Cold Spring to County Road 158 by the Rich-Spring Golf Course. This phase includes replacing the bridge across the Sauk River in Cold Spring. This $9 million phase would be completed in 2004.

Phase four would extend the highway through Richmond, replacing the bridge across the Sauk River towards Roscoe. This $7 million phase would be completed in 2005.

The four-lane expansion project from I-94 to Richmond will cost $50 million: $30 million for construction and $20 million to purchase right-of-way. According to Travis, the 13-mile project includes relocating 37 homes and 15 businesses.

Besides state highway funds, the Highway 23 project will be using federal funds, as Highway 23 has been designated an interregional corridor. This supplemental funding has moved phase four up a year, which should enable MnDOT to complete the project early.

Willmar to New London
MnDOT expects work on the four-lane highway through Spicer and New London to start in 2003 and be completed in 2004. This 11.5-mile stretch of roadway is estimated to cost $48 million.

MnDOT has held a lot of meetings in New London and Spicer and feels at this point a lot of things have been wrapped up, Flaten said.

Even though the plans have been approved by the Spicer City Council, and MnDOT. Citizens opposed to the four-lane expansion are still trying to prevent the highway from running through Spicer. Opposition concerns include the amount of traffic, fitting the expanded roadway through the town, and loss of right-of-way.

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