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|Paynesville Press - July 6, 2005|
Highway 23 study draws comments at public hearing
An open house and public hearing about the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Highway 23 attracted approximately 115 local residents on Tuesday, June 28.|
The open house - from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the school auditorium - offered a time for residents to look at maps for the proposed route alternatives and to ask questions of MnDOT staff and their consulting engineers.
The public hearing in the auditorium featured a half-hour presentation about the draft EIS and proposed route options by Tom Parker, project manager for the consulting engineering firm Edwards and Kelsey. Parker described the possible routes, outlined the study process, and listed the engineering factors and potential economic and environmental impacts of the possible routes. (See the chart at right for a summary of the route impacts.)
The five options for Highway 23 studied in the draft EIS are:
Then, 20 area residents gave their opinions about the proposed options for Highway 23 over the next 45 minutes.
The public hearing, scheduled to end at 8:30 p.m., was drawn to a close just before 9 p.m.
Residents can still comment about the draft EIS and route options for Highway 23 until Thursday, July 21. (This closing date has been extended from Monday, July 18.) Send written comments to: Lowell Flaten, MnDOT - District 8 Project Manager; 2505 Transportation Road; Willmar, MN 56201-0768. His fax number is 320-231-5168. (Comment cards, for written comments, were also distributed last week.)
Copies of the draft EIS are available locally for public viewing at Paynesville City Hall and at the Paynesville Public Library (as well as at the MnDOT offices in Willmar and St. Cloud). These copies are available for on-site viewing only and are not available for check out.
The 100-page draft EIS is also available online at projects.dot. state.mn.us/edkel/023/ through a series of pdf files.
Comments - both from the public and from government agencies - will be addressed and used by MnDOT, Edwards and Kelsey, and the Federal Highway Administra-tion to determine a "preferred alternative," along with the data from the draft EIS. They hope to collect and address comments and to meet and discuss the "preferred alternative" by the end of August; a determination of the "preferred alternative," or future route of Highway 23, should be made this fall.
Then, a final EIS will need to be prepared, and a record of decision from the Federal Highway Admini-stration will issue a record of decision, expected in 2006.
Actual construction of any new route in Paynesville is still unknown. Current MnDOT funding does not call for the project until 2017 but $4.5 million in special funding has been included in the federal energy bill by the House of Representatives. That bill - which would require that the money be spent during its six-year life - could allow for an earlier project, but the federal energy bill has been stalled. (Last year, $5 million was earmarked for Highway 23 in the bill, but it never became law.)
"I like what you're doing in Spicer. You've slowed down traffic," said Easterday. "There are stoplights. People can stop there if they wish. You've made it very attractive."
Business interests should be considered when selecting the future route and shape of Highway 23, he stressed, because "the decision you're about to make is going to affect Paynesville forever."
Later, Huber added that Rockville was growing after a bypass of Highway 23 was built there.
But, Wendlandt also stressed the need for safety and for consideration with the younger generations with highway improvements.
He also questioned the growth projections in the report (25 percent projected growth in the next 20 years, when growth over the last 30 was only 18 percent and the city lost population slightly over the last ten years). "I don't see any evidence to support that (projected growth)," he said.
He also said that he thought the east bypass would be a mistake. Even no improvements would be better than a four-lane through town or the east bypass, he said. "I would hate to see this community ruined by a four-lane highway through town," he said.
He said the far west was his personal choice, and the best route, because of its ability to handle traffic.
The business community of Paynesville has already changed, said Butler, citing the loss of retail stores, but the town was alive and vital. "Don't worry that Paynesville is going to die," he said. "It's got too many positive things happening in it. You know that. That's why you're here. So what if it is a bedroom community. People spend money in a bedroom community. Let's make it the best bedroom community that we can."
Having traveled a great deal as a salesman for 15 years, he said the west bypass made the most sense. "Towns that do not have good accessibility to the highwayŠthey die, they dry up, they wither," he said.
He said he always dreamed about a field full of business where the new airport now stands.
If he had to pick, he said, he would choose the far west bypass, and he thinks the town would grow to the new highway.
The speed limit, accounting for the 5-mph grace, needs to be 30 or 40 mph to insure access, he said.
He also wondered how many farmers would be impacted by each bypass and how pedestrians would be impacted by crossing a four-lane highway.
Whatever the route chosen, said Bugbee, it would benefit Paynesville by providing better access. The town would meet the challenge whatever route is chosen, he added.
She said she would trust the professionals on the highway decision.
A through-town highway would be very divisive, he said, and we would be nuts to choose it. "I think if you choose a through-town route you'll greatly regret it in 20 years and want to get rid of it," said Meyer, whose house would be taken by the through-town route.
He said he did not know the best route, but he said the east bypass was too divisive between the town and the lake and the far west bypass went too far from town. "If you move it too far, you lose the benefit of the highway," he said.
He wondered if keeping the existing alignment of Highway 23 on the west end of town to the Highway 55 intersection and then going north of town had been studied sufficiently.
Having grown up in the New London-Spicer area, she said she was against the alignment of the four-lane highway in Spicer.
Westvig also questioned when the highway would be built and noted that the indecision was an impediment to buying, selling, and remodeling property. "Let's get the thing on the ground," he said.
"Let's get the show on the road and find out where the road is going to go so we can get on with our lives," he said.
Koronis Tire, despite getting 80 or 85 percent (maybe more) of its business from local customers, would be affected by changing traffic patterns due to the new highway, and he feared that they would lose customers who were unwilling to drive an extra mile, citing a 25-percent drop in business when the highway bridge over the Crow River was replaced.
Paynesville needs to remain accessible from the new highway, he said, and the community needs to have good signs promoting itself.
He asked people to raise their hands if they took Highway 12 to the Twin Cities (none), Highway 55 (a few), and Highway 23 (a few more). "My personal feeling is we're all prone to take the line of least resistance," he said.
She agreed that the town needed to have good access to the north and needs to keep business interests in mind so Paynesville does not become a "ghost town." Access to St. Cloud for teenagers is also important, she said.
Still, Highway 55 used to come right through town, and Paynesville survived when that highway route was changed. "We are a resilient community," he said. "No matter the outcome, we will survive."
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