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Paynesville Press - March 5, 2003

Residents discuss Highway 23 at informational meeting

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

Robert Meyer, who owns five acres at the intersection of Highway 23 and County Road 33, wants to know if he can safely build on his property or not. Two of the proposed future routes for Highway 23 would go through his property.

Meyer was one of more than 100 people who attended a Highway 23 informational meeting at the Paynesville Area Center on Thursday night.

During the informal meeting, residents had the opportunity to examine the various proposed routes for Highway 23 and voice their opinions to engineers and MnDOT officials working on the project.

During the first half of the meeting, engineers described their work so far in the project. They started with five possible routes (an east bypass, a far west bypass, a west bypass, through town, and "no build"), added three possible routes that ran north of town, and then eliminated them.

Highway 23 meeting - photo by Bonnie Jo Hanson Now, as they prepare to start completing the actual Environmental Impact Statement, they will judge the five remaining routes on their ability to handle traffic and on other engineering factors as well as by environmental concerns, social considerations, and construction costs.

Over 100 area residents attended a Highway 23 informational meeting, held last week at the Paynesville Area Center, where they had the opportunity to voice their opinions about various proposed routes for the highway.

According to engineers, traffic on Highway 23 has increased in the last 20 years from approximately 2,000 vehicles to 7,000 vehicles per day. By 2025, that number could be over 12,000 vehicles, too many for the current highway to handle.

On weekdays, trucks comprise 20 percent of the traffic, up to 40 percent at peak times. The highest traffic volumes are on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, when over 1,000 trucks a day pass through town, according to the engineers.

Audience members asked several questions about the project. The first was: Why is the highway going to go around the airport?

MnDOT engineer Lowell Flaten explained that MnDOT agreed early in the project that the highway would not interfere with the airport.

Another question asked which route was the most economical, which the engineers were unable to say. According to engineer Tom Parker, a very rough estimate has been put together, but he did not give any numbers.

Getting an estimate for the project has also been a priority for the Highway 23 Advisory Task Force, a local group that meets with the engineers. Members of the task force have asked for those cost estimates. The task force's next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 13, at the Paynesville Area Center at 3 p.m. Meyer stated his frustration over the uncertainty of the future route and asked if it didn't make sense to purchase properties early, before they have been developed and would cost more to purchase.

Flaten encouraged people not to put their plans on hold because of the highway. As far as when construction could start, Flaten said MnDOT just doesn't know yet.

Funding for the project hasn't even been procured yet. Mayor Jeff Thompson, though, will be going to Washington, D.C., next week with a group from Willmar to meet with federal legislators and lobby for federal funding for the project in the next transportation bill, which is due this summer.

Another resident asked if the route of Highway 23 was even something she needed to worry about in her lifetime, or if she will be long gone before the project starts.

Another concern was about keeping easy access between the city of Paynesville and Lake Koronis. Flaten said MnDOT recognizes how important the lake is to the city's economy. Any new highway will be built in a way to allow easy access to the lake, either by going over or under the highway, he said.

Another resident wanted to know how access to township roads would be affected by the highway. Parker explained that because of limited entrances to the new highway, some township road accesses would have to be consolidated.

At the end of the meeting, Parker explained that the next step in the process will be a more formal scoping meeting, after which the scoping document can be submitted to MnDOT. This document will list the routes - and factors for each - to be studied in the EIS. The EIS could be completed by December 2003, at which time the future route would be chosen.

Residents examine Hwy 23 route map - photo by Bonnie Jo Hanson Resident reactions

After the presentation, residents were encouraged to examine maps of the various routes and give their input on each route.

The issue of whether to bypass the city or not had various opinions.

Area residents examine a map of one of the proposed routes for Highway 23. Officials would like to make a final decision regarding a route by December 2003.

Bert Stanley, who owns Corner Drug, said he doesn't want the highway to go through the city because he feels it would be too disruptive. If the highway goes through town, it wouldn't necessarily benefit his business, he said, but he is concerned that building a highway in Paynesville will force businesses to close by taking their property, which would hurt his business.

On the other hand, Angie and Marlin Arends of the Paynesville Greenhouse like the idea of the new highway following the existing route. They said the route will not affect their business, but they are concerned that a bypass would have a negative impact on the city.

As for traffic noise, Angie said it doesn't bother her now and she doesn't think it will get any worse.

While some thought the city would die if the highway bypassed it, others believe the city would grow to meet the highway and a bypass would attract new residents, as new developments could be built near the highway in undeveloped areas.

Pat Meagher, a supervisor for Paynesville Township, wants the highway to bypass the city and supports the far west corridor. He said he dislikes the idea of the city being divided and feels that the community would grow to meet the highway.

Several parents at the meeting voiced concerns about having Highway 23 go past the school. They said they don't want their children to have to deal with four lanes of traffic. While the west bypass would go through the west side of town, MnDOT is looking at several options that would keep the new highway from running right past the school.

Other residents were concerned that a proposed route went right past their residence, especially since there has been no indication how property owners will be compensated if their property has to be purchased by for the new highway.

Rose Strodtman, who lives west of town, doesn't want the far west corridor to be chosen, as it appears it will go through her property. She thinks the routes should be flexible and take peoples' homes into consideration.

Jan Kulzer agrees with her. One route would go through her farm. "We bought a little farm to spend the rest of our lives on. We want to leave it to our grandkids. Some things just aren't for sale," she said.

Right now, the uncertainty of the future route is making property sales in the corridor very difficult, according to Sue Johnson, a realtor with Meierhofer Realty. She said she has had a hard time selling property near the potential routes. Nobody wants to buy property that may be a highway in a few years, she said.

Description of the four possible routes.

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