Three route options through Paynesville were presented by SRF Consulting to the Highway 23 Steering Committee on Monday. Charlene Zimmer, SRF consultant, talked about several route alternatives from Willmar to Spicer, Spicer to New London, New London to Paynesville and Paynesville to Richmond. SRF was hired by MnDOT to do a year-long corridor study on Highway 23 from Willmar to Richmond.
In the Paynesville area, two alternatives dealt with by-passes around town, a north route and a south route. Zimmer also mentioned a route through town, but that alternative wasnít considered feasible as it would require the relocation of about 31 homes, two apartment buildings and 17 businesses. The downtown route would also have closed several intersections, realigned streets and consolidated several intersections.
Zimmer explained the Paynesville by-pass alternatives to the Highway 23 Steering Committee, stating the traffic impacts are about the same for the north route and the south route.
The north route (see map) would follow Highway 23 past the high school, cross north of the North Fork Crow River and across the railroad tracks before veering over to County Road 33 and the lagoons.
The south route would take Highway 23 from the curve at the golf course across the driving range and eastward toward Koronis Parts and Highway 55. From there the route would angle to old Highway 23 between Heatherwood and John Deere. ďThe south route would impact the golf course somewhat,Ē Zimmer said. ďAnother issue would be where to cross the railroad bridge. The north route has a river crossing, a wetland complex near the lagoons and the problem of where to get back to Highway 23.Ē
Zimmer suggested frontage roads be built to provide better connections to Highway 55 and Highway 23 if the south route were used. ďGoing either direction, some awkward intersections would have to be realigned,Ē she said.
Two issues at stake involve development. The north by-pass would take Highway 23 further from town, but on the other hand it would disturb less development and the right-of-way acquisition would be simpler than the southern route. The north route would also affect land use/development patterns in Paynesville; could relocate some businesses to the highway, but a disadvantage would be the distance from downtown.
The pedestrian/bicycle impact of the by-pass would decrease difficulty in crossing old Highway 23 and reduce traffic near the school with the south route. Possible economic impacts involved on the south route would affect land use development, relocation of some businesses to by-pass and potential impact on airport upgrade.
Zimmer explained benefit costs would need to be looked at concerning both alternatives. ďThere are trade-offs either way,Ē Zimmer said. ďAll the options need to be investigated further.Ē Cost estimates for both the north and south route are about $11 million.
Zimmer said Paynesville needs to look at right-of-way preservation when the by-pass option is decided upon. ďA lot of things can be done now to help the future planning of Highway 23. The project will take many years to develop, she added. Because of funding restrictions, the Highway 23 study corridor will probably not become a reality for another 10 to 20 years.
In a feasibility analysis, SRF explored the option of turning the Highway 55 and 23 intersection into a four-way stop. A traffic count showed there was more traffic volume on Highway 55 than 23. Zimmer said if the area were made a four-way stop, the user costs would go up. For now, the existing situation is best.
In the Spicer area, Zimmer said they are looking at a four-lane reconstruction. It would involve seven intersections with full access, realign the frontage roads and close a lot of driveway accesses where they have access to another road. ďThe parallel routes are limited because of the trails and lakes in the area,Ē Zimmer added.
From Spicer to New London, a frontage road would be constructed to provide driveway access to a road other than Highway 23.
ďThere are numerous wetlands which would impact the project and environmental reviews will be needed,Ē Zimmer told the committee.
Zimmer recommended doing a origin/destination study to see where traffic is headed in the Paynesville area. How many people drive through Paynesville and how many stop in Paynesville?
Even though the study is exploring a four-lane highway, Zimmer recommended that parts of the route be made two lanes. She agreed Highway 23 from Willmar to New London be made four lanes. New London to Paynesville could be a two-lane highway with passing lanes and access management. This stretch has a lower traffic volume, she added.
The Paynesville area needs a by-pass and the improvements would be cost significant. From Paynesville to Richmond, she again recommended a two-lane highway with passing lanes because the benefit costs are not there for a four-lane highway. ďThe recommendations are only a starting point based on needs for the area today,Ē she said.
The steering committee consists of members from Stearns County Commissioners and highway engineers, Kandiyohi County Commissioners and highway engineers, MnDOT District 3 and 8 engineers, and city representatives from Willmar, New London, Spicer, Paynesville, and Roscoe.
Public meetings will be scheduled in Paynesville for March or April after the origin/destination study is completed. The next Highway 23 Steering Committee meeting will be held on Monday, March 17, in Paynesville.
The complete by-pass map is available at city hall for viewing.
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