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Paynesville Press - June 11, 2003

Highway options to be officially pared to five

By Michael Jacobson

Scoping meeting After nearly two years of study, the first decisions about the future route of Highway 23 were presented to the public in Paynesville last week. The open house at the school attracted 135 residents, and more than 100 stayed for the public hearing in the auditorium on Wednesday, June 4.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation and its consulting engineers, Edwards and Kelcey, presented the scoping document for their Highway 23 study. (The scoping process.) This document includes traffic studies and analysis and preliminary examinations of the potential routes based on engineering, environmental, and social factors.

The main conclusion of the scoping document is to drop three bypass routes that go north of Paynesville from consideration in the lengthier Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is the next step in the study process.

Paynesville residents Jeff Ampe (left) and Charles Ampe (hidden at far left) look at a map for a proposed future route of Highway 23 along with a consulting engineer.

These three routes – the bypass following the Glacial Ridge Trail from Hawick to Roscoe, the bypass using Highway 4 and Co. Rd. 16, and the bypass through the west of town and then along the trail – have been effectively off the table for many months but are formally dropped in the scoping decision document, which will be filed with the Federal Highway Administration and will be used as a blueprint for the EIS, according to MnDOT.

The scoping document recommends studying only those alternatives that make sense, said Tom Parker, an engineer with Edwards and Kelcey at the meeting last week. "We're in the process of narrowing things down," he said.

If the scoping decision document is approved as issued, five alternatives for Highway 23 will be studied in the Environmental Impact Statement: no build, improve the existing alignment through town, and three bypass routes (east, far west, and west).

The scoping decision document also eliminated some sub-options for these routes. For instance, the east and west bypasses presently are planned to run in the agricultural fields from the Kandiyohi County line into town, instead of following the current route past the golf course. Also, the west bypass now goes between a row of businesses (Alco, the American Legion, etc.) and the airport and not right past the schools.

And, for the west and far west bypasses, the present plan calls for them to follow Co. Rd. 33 back to Highway 23 instead of going straight across the farm fields to the east and joining with Highway 23 a couple miles out of town.

Comments about the scoping document can be made until Friday, June 26, by writing to: Lowell Flaten, MnDOT District 8, 2505 Transporta-tion Road, P.O. Box 768, Willmar, MN 56201-7068.

In an hour-long presentation at the public meeting, Parker recapped the study so far: how the traffic studies indicated a need for the project (because the projected levels of service on the existing road would be inadequate by 2025); how the traffic analysis indicated a need to keep the road close to Paynesville (because nearly half of weekday traffic either starts, ends, or makes a stop in Paynesville); and how that led to dropping the three longest bypasses that go far to the north of town because they would not serve Paynesville well.

While reducing the number of routes and options lessens the amount of work required in the rest of the highway study, eliminated items can be added back into the study if it can be shown to be worthwhile, said Parker.

So far, the Highway 23 study has taken preliminary looks at engineering, environmental, and social factors. In the Environmental Impact Statement, which is next, 27 factors will be studied: air quality impacts; bikeways and pedestrians; contaminated sites; construction impact; cumulative and secondary impacts; economic impacts; erosion control and slope stability; environmental justice; farmlands; fish and wildlife; floodplain; groundwater and geology; land use and joint development; park, recreational, open space, public-use lands, forest land, and trails; noise; right-of-way acquisition and relocation; social and neighborhood impacts and community facilities; soils and materials; streams; traffic and transportation impacts; utility locations; visual impacts; water quality; wetlands; earthborne vibration; endangered and threatened species; excess materials; handicapped access; irreversible use of resources; local short-term use versus long term; transit impacts; vegetation; wild and scenic rivers; cultural resources; historical resources; and archaelogical resources.

At the end of the Environmental Impact Statement, based on these study criteria, a preferred alternative will be selected, said Parker. If the study is complete and thorough, this should be the future route of Highway 23, he added.

Parker said the Environmental Impact Statement is not expected to be completed until the winter of 2004 at least. When the Highway 23 study started nearly two years ago, the final Environmental Impact Study was expected to be done by the winter of 2003.

More public hearings will be held for the draft Environmental Impact Statement and for the final Environmental Impact Statement. Until then, a local task force will be meeting with the engineers on a semi-regular basis.

Anyone wanting to convey an idea or opinion to the engineers can contact a task force member. They are: John Janotta, high school principal; Don Otte, Stearns County Commissioner; Jeff Thompson, mayor of Paynesville; Dave Peschong, city council member in Paynesville; Don Pietsch, supervisor for Paynesville Township; Paul Evans, Paynesville Area Chamber of Commerce; Peter Jacobson, president of the Koronis Lake Association; Ed Gottwald, resident-at-large (township); Joe Kremer, resident-at-large (city); Jeff Bertram, resident-at-large (city); Steve Helget, city administrator for Paynesville; and Mike Flanders, Roseville Township.

Parker and Flaten also spent an hour answering questions before the meeting adjourned.

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