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|Paynesville Press - March 20, 2002|
Neighboring mayors share insights on Highway 23
"Highway 23," came the innocent sounding question. "Does that affect anyone?"|
The question was posed by Spicer Mayor Bill Taylor, one of four out-of-town guests at the monthly Chamber of Commerce noon luncheon. The Chamber organized having the mayors from Spicer, Cold Spring, and Rockville come to Paynesville, along with the city administrator from Cold Spring, to discuss how highway improvement projects can affect a town and share any tips they learned for dealing with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
"I want to encourage you to sit down as a community and decide what's best for you," continue Taylor. "MnDOT builds roads. They don't know you. They don't know your community. They don't know your businesses."
"It's not up to MnDOT to decide where the road should go," agreed Rockville Mayor Vince Schaefer. "It's up to the city council and the citizens to decide."
Five options for Highway 23 in Paynesville are being considered by MnDOT: keeping the existing route, improving the existing route, and three bypass routes.
The city council plays an important role because, unlike township governments, it must approve the route for the road within the city limits. Highway 23, by law, must serve the city of Paynesville and touch the city limits, meaning MnDOT will need to get the city council's approval for any plan.
Not all the panelists were from out of town. New city administrator Steve Helget and Paynesville Mayor Jeff Thompson also addressed the Chamber members.
Helget, who came to Paynesville from Eagle Lake, near Mankato, described his experience there after Highway 14 to Mankato was widened to four lanes. The four-lane road to Eagle Lake had dramatic impact on housing developments, as commuting became easier, and on traffic through town, at least initially, said Helget.
It took some time, but the traffic did learn the new road and remember that Eagle Lake still existed on the old road. "If the businesses were providing a good service to begin with, people are going to come back," he said.
The loss of highway traffic and highway visibility is a major concern to businesses along the current Highway 23 route in Paynesville. "I can have people that I've never seen before that come (into my business) because of my sign on the highway," said Dan Binsfeld of Koronis Tire.
But Schaefer noted that getting the traffic out of town can have a positive effect on local shoppers, who may have a difficult time crossing traffic or getting out of parking spots along busy highways. Entrepreneurs in Rockville support the bypass, according to Schaefer, because "they're realizing that once the highway gets out of town their customers are going to have an easier time getting to their businesses."
Schaefer said he talked with representatives from 32 cities and couldn't find any that regretted a decision to build a bypass, like Rockville has opted to do.
The process of reworking a major lifeblood to a community involves numerous details. For the last year, Cold Spring has had a nonstop discussion of issues relating to Highway 23, according to city administrator Larry Lahr. "We're finding out the devil is in the details," he explained.
But even in the details, there are opportunities, he added. Like MnDOT funding for aesthetic improvements, like granite facing on the bridge or old fashioned lights. "The big 'do' is to look for these opportunities," he said.
All the city officials said that MnDOT was very accommodating and helpful, but communities and officials needed to get organized to tell them what they wanted.
One thing behind the push for Highway 23 improvements, warned Lahr, is its designation as an interregional corridor, which puts emphasis on getting thru traffic through town fast by limiting access to the highway. This counters some of the main interests of a community, and especially business, for highway access and visibility.
Speed and safety also come into play as issues. The push on interregional corridors is for faster speeds and fewer stops, according to Lahr. Local traffic, businesses, and pedestrians may be more interested in accessibility to the road and safety.
Edwards and Kelsey, the consulting firm that is conducting the study in Paynesville for MnDOT, plans to complete a draft Environmental Impact Statement by this fall.
In other developments related to Highway 23, the local advisory committee met with MnDOT and Edwards and Kelsey officials for the first time on Thursday, and the website for the Highway 23 Paynesville Area Improvement Project is up at projects.dot.state.mn.us/edkel/023/. There is a link to this site at www.paynesville.com.o
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