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Paynesville Press - March 19, 2003

Highway choices narrow slightly

By Michael Jacobson

Description of Highway alternatives

The choices for the future route of Highway 23 have narrowed slightly.

Last week at a task force meeting, MnDOT and the engineers conducting the study of the highway asked the local advisory committee to make some recommendations about the routes. On the advice of the task force, three options for the highway were eliminated, as long as the MnDOT engineers agree.

Four "build" routes - three bypass routes and improving the existing alignment through town - continue, as well as the "no build" option of leaving the highway as is.

Engineers studying the highway also released preliminary cost estimates for the routes last week.

The advisory committee made choices on three sub-routes. For instance, for the west and the east bypass, the task force concluded that, when coming from the west, angling a half mile to the north at the county line and building the new highway in the ag fields by the new airport was preferable to staying on the existing route, which is squeezed by residential development on the north side and a land trust on the south.

The task force also preferred the west bypass routes that go behind the row of businesses along Highway 23 (Alco, the American Legion, etc.), instead of right in front of the school.

For all these routes, the engineers proposed an interchange with Highway 55, and if the new highway remained on its existing route, several businesses and houses would be lost for this interchange. "It brings the highway closest to town," said Tom Parker, the lead engineer for Edwards and Kelcey, which is conducting the study on Highway 23, "but at the cost of businesses and houses."

Instead, the task force preferred a west bypass that would go behind these businesses, perhaps using the runway of the existing airstrip. This would enable the new highway to make a more perpendicular intersection with Highway 55 and to have the interchange with Highway 55 on the north side of the Crow River.

If the west bypass is chosen, Co. Rd. 130, on the west end of town, will need to be rerouted to the west before it intersects with Highway 55. For the far west and the west bypass routes, the local task force recommended that the new highway follow the curve of Co. Rd. 33 at the city sewer ponds and rejoin existing Highway 23 on the east side of town, rather than heading straight and rejoining the highway a mile east of Paynesville.

Updated maps of all these routes are available for viewing at city hall. The next step in the process is to have a formal public meeting, where the scoping document will be presented. This document lists the routes to be studied in the Environment Impact Statement, in which all five routes will be studied in great detail and the best future route will be determined.

Once again, eliminating the far west bypass was suggested at the task force meeting last week, this time by Mike Flanders, who represents Roseville Township on the advisory committee. Ed Gottwald, who represents landowners north of town, said that route would run right through his living room but still should be studied.

"If you're not interested in stopping in Paynesville, this is a great way to go," said Parker, of the far west bypass. "If you are interested, it's not."

The far west bypass would also have the cheapest cost to build, according to preliminary cost estimates done by Parker.

These estimates are very rough and will change, Parker stressed. He said he used actual averages from recent MnDOT projects in the area to determine estimates for the construction of a new highway, based on the cost per mile and the number of bridges.

For right-of-way purchase, Parker said he basically made guesses at his desk. For ag land, he estimated $1,500 per acre, for residences he estimated $200,000 for each (including utility replacement and relocation reimbursement), and for businesses he estimated $750,000. (Flaten said that MnDOT only buys the property from businesses; business owners keep their inventory.)

Parker said he put more faith in the construction cost estimates than the right-of-way cost estimates.

For the bypasses, construction costs are estimated to be lowest for the far west bypass ($17 million) with the east bypass ($18 million) and the west bypass down the old airport runway ($18 million) next.

The far west bypass, at $18 million, would be the cheapest to build, including estimated right-of-way costs. Next is the west bypass using the runway ($20-23 million) and the east bypass ($24-26 million).

Edwards and Kelcey has completed a cost estimate for the construction of a four-lane highway through Paynesville ($9-10 million) but has not finished the right-of-way cost.

Parker also said again last week that the traffic data and analysis indicate a need for this project. When traffic is projected to 2025, the current road results in gridlock in peak times.

While Edwards and Kelcey has done traffic analysis for a two-lane road along the existing route through the city in 2025 and for a four-lane highway through the city, it has yet to do the traffic analysis for a three-lane highway through town. This is being done.

The through-town route would be designed with several stop lights. Though the highway would need to be surveyed for a safe speed, MnDOT engineer Lowell Flaten guessed that the through-town route would have a speed limit of 30 to 40 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, all the bypass routes are being designed by the strict standards for an Interregional Corridor. This designation - while helping this project get earlier funding due to its regional importance - means that MnDOTs goal is to get traffic through Paynesville at high speeds without stopping. All four bypass routes are being designed without any stoplights and with design speeds of 70 miles per hour, which would allow them to be posted with 65 mph speed limits.

The loss of access and high speeds was a large concern for the half dozen business owners in attendance at the task force meeting last week. "When people are going 70 and they're going to hit St. Cloud, why would they stop (in Paynesville)?" asked one business representative in attendance.

Dave Lange of H & L Express suggested putting a stoplight on the west bypass as a way to slow down traffic and better enable through traffic to stop in Paynesville. When informed that this wasn't what MnDOT wanted for Highway 23, Lange responded, "That's what we're after."

Flaten also explained MnDOT's land acquisition process, which would be similar to what was used for the airport project. MnDOT would conduct an appraisal and use that amount in negotiations with landowners. Landowners could get a second appraisal - paid for by MnDOT, according to Flaten. If negotiations did not work, MnDOT would need to use condemnation to secure the needed property.

Typically, all projects with more than 10 land parcels require condemnation, said Flaten.

MnDOT does not compensate for the loss of traffic to businesses, as the courts have found that property owners do not own the traffic, said Flaten. This is still a concern to business owners who purchased their property for its proximity and access to Highway 23 traffic.

Other changes in the routes are:

  • The far west bypass has been redrawn to leave the present Highway 23 a half mile or so to the west of the intersection of Roseville Road and Tri-County Road. This change avoids cutting through houses along Roseville Road and leaves the farm fields more intact.

    This route also would require the intersection of Roseville Road and Cemetery Road to be redesigned, with Cemetery Road serving as one of five accesses to the city, the others being where it splits from the existing road, an interchange with Highway 55, an intersection with Lake Avenue, and where the new highway would rejoin the old highway east of town.

  • For the east bypass, a complication could exist on the golf course. The original cemetery for the town was located where the #2 green is now, which is right on the path of the east bypass.

    Jack Binsfeld, a member of the board of directors at Koronis Hills Golf Course, told the engineers about this early cemetery last week. While the bodies are believed to have been moved to the Paynesville Cemetery when it opened, some remains from unmarked graves may still be buried there.

  • A question also remains over whether the new highway could go under the railroad on the east end of town, as required for the east bypass. Going under the railroad would make it easier to have an intersection on the east end of town, as bridging the railroad would require long inclines.

    Generally, MnDOT prefers to go over railroads, but in some special cases, like this, it will look at going under, said Flaten. If the highway goes under, the bridge would be widened considerably to improve visibility and provide a place to push snow when plowing.

    Four "Build" Alternatives

    Still under consideration for the future route of Highway 23 are four "build" alternatives - improving the current route through Paynesville, a bypass to east of town, a bypass through the west side of town, and a far west bypass - and one "no build" alternate, leaving the road exactly as it is.

    The "no build" option, according to traffic studies and projections, would result in near gridlock at peak times by 2025, indicating a need for some sort of improvements.

    Engineers still have to study the traffic data to determine if a two-lane highway with left-hand turn lanes throughout town would handle traffic well enough to be a viable alternative.

    Here are descriptions for the four "build" options, traveling through Paynesville from west to east. Detailed maps of these proposed routes are available for the public to view at city hall.

    East Bypass

    As it would come from the west into Paynesville, it would leave the existing route by the county line and turn to the north slightly and then run along the farmland by the airport.

    It would head east once it reaches the golf course, running over the current driving range. It would possibly need some land from the golf course, but a possible complication is that the original town cemetery was where the #2 green now stands, directly in its path.

    It would go over Co. Rd. 181 and then have an interchange with Highway 55 just east of the city limits. Then it would go over Co. Rd. 34, have an intersection with a city street before crossing the railroad, possibly going underneath, and joining back with the existing Highway 23 before crossing the Crow River.

    It would have five exits to town: where it splits, by the high school at the end of the airstrip, the interchange with Highway 55, an intersection with a city street on the east side of town, and where it rejoins existing Highway 23.

    Far West Bypass

    This bypass would split with the existing Highway 23 about a half mile west of the Roseville Road, farther to the west than originally proposed. Then it would run north - still in Kandiyohi County - to the end of the new airstrip. Cemetery Road and Roseville Road would need to be reconfigured to make a clean intersection with the new highway.

    It would cross the Crow River at nearly a 90-degree angle. Then it would go over the railroad tracks and have an interchange with Highway 55 west of Paynesville.

    It would run parallel to 185th Street (to the south to avoid the substation), have an intersection with Lake Avenue to the north of town, go around the sewage ponds following the route of Co. Rd. 33, and would connect with existing Highway 23 east of Paynesville.

    Both Roseville Road and 185th Street would be used as frontage roads for this route.

    This route would have five exits to Paynesville: where it splits, at Cemetery Road, at an interchange with Highway 55, at an intersection with Lake Avenue, and when it rejoins Highway 23 east of town.

    Improving Existing Route

    This route would continue past the high school, where the south access would become a "right on, right off," meaning drivers could only make a right turn into the parking lot from the west and a right turn back onto Highway 23 going east. It would not be a full intersection where drivers could cross the median to go in the other direction.

    The north school access - by the student parking lot - would remain a full intersection. This pattern would continue through town: a right-in, right-off access followed by a full intersection.

    The next intersection would be with Main Street. This route would angle slightly to the southeast of its present course and have an intersection with Highway 55 by the armory. Then it would go northeast and resume the existing route of Highway 23.

    Two curves would be flattened in town. The one by Mill Street would be flattened by taking land to the north, and the curve by River Street would be flattened by taking land to the south.

    This route would have half the intersections it does now: at Burr Street, at Oak Park, at Stearns Avenue, at Highway 124 (Lake Avenue), at Garfield Avenue, and at Clare Street. Washburne Avenue possibly could be a full intersection. Other roads and driveways would be "right on, right off" only.

    The speed for this would be less than for a bypass, even for the same number of lanes. Once built, MnDOT will let drivers use the new highway for a few months and then do a speed study to determine an appropriate speed.

    Right now, this route would have two or three stoplights, including one at Highway 55.

    As this route goes through town, the best side to take land is to the south, according to Edwards and Kelcey. Doing this would interfere with the building that houses Lakedale Telephone.

    West Bypass

    As it would come from the west into Paynesville, this bypass would follow the same route as the east bypass, angling to the north at the county line and coming to town along the farmland to the south of the airport.

    Last week, the advisory task force recommended that this bypass not follow the current path right past the high school. Instead it would turn to the north and go behind the businesses along Highway 23. It even could turn more sharply and go down the runway for the old airport.

    It would cross the Crow River and have an interchange with Highway 55 on the north side of the river. To accommodate this interchange, Co. Rd. 130 would need to be rerouted to the west. Then this bypass would go north of town, following 185th Street and rejoining existing Highway 23 on the east side of town.

    This bypass would also have five exits to Paynesville: when it splits, by the high school, an interchange with Highway 55, an intersection with Lake Avenue, and when it rejoins Highway 23.

    See the main Highway 23 page for more information.

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