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Paynesville Press - July 9, 2003

Businesses prefer thru-town Highway 23

By Michael Jacobson

(Editor's Note: While the engineers continue to study four possible future routes for Highway 23 either through or around Paynesville, the Press will take a look at the four possibilities. This week, the focus is on the option to improve the through-town route.)

Keeping Highway 23 running through Paynesville remains the favorite route of local business owners, according to a new poll conducted this spring.

A volunteer committee - Dan Binsfeld, Joel Burr, Paul Evans, Dave Lange, Dick Johnson, Randy Kern, and Ron Stebbins - wrote and sent the survey to 75 business owners in Paynesville. The committee received 37 responses.Of these responses, over 40 percent (16 responses) chose the through town route as the best.

However, this choice is far from unanimous, even among business owners. The west bypass - listed as three separate choices in the survey - got 13 first-place votes (35 percent) altogether and got nearly all the second-place votes. (MnDOT has decided that the best west bypass route would run behind the row of businesses on the west end of town, behind Alco, the American Legion, the Country Inn, Yarmon Ford, Subway, etc., not by the school.)

In total, the three bypass routes (east, west, and far west) were preferred by 19, while the through-town route was chosen by 16.

These results are similar to a survey of 35 Chamber of Commerce members in January 2002, near the start of this highway study. In that study, the through-town route was also the top vote-getter, but top choices were split between the through-town route and the three bypass routes taken together.

Recent survey comments included positives and negatives about the through-town route. Of primary concern was the impact to businesses in shifting Highway 23 to a route out of Paynesville. "Best for downtown," wrote one comment.

"Any bypass of town would destroy the town economically," wrote another.

"I don't think people will stop just because they go through town," wrote another. "However, my concern is the focus taken away from town with any bypass."

"I also believe that those people that go to St. Cloud two times per week will now go four times with any bypass."

While business owners may want to keep all the traffic going through Paynesville, congestion is one of the concerns of people who favor moving the highway.

The through-town route would also have limited accesses to Highway 23. The current through-town proposal calls for ten full intersections in Paynesville - at the north entrance to the high school parking lot; at Main Street; at Highway 55; at Burr Street; at Maple Street; at Oak Park Avenue; at Stearns Avenue; at Lake Avenue; at Garfield Avenue; and at Claire Avenue. Only at these places would traffic be able to cross the highway and make left turns.

Other intersections and driveways would be "right on, right off," meaning motorists could only make right turns onto the highway and off the highway. Under current plans, the through-town route would have stoplights at Highway 55 and possibly Lake Avenue.

The through-town route, as currently planned, would angle slightly to the southeast of its present course just past the high school and have an intersection with Highway 55 closer to the armory. Then it would head northeast and resume the existing route of Highway 23 by Pine Street.

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.

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

"A three-lane highway should be considered in the thru town option," wrote another comment from the recent survey. "No plans are in effect for four lanes on either side of Paynesville."

In fact, MnDOT's consulting engineers (Edwards and Kelcey) have done traffic studies and analysis on Highway 23, projecting traffic volumes and patterns until 2025. According to these projections, the current two-lane highway will not meet traffic needs during peak times in 20 years, indicating to MnDOT the need for improvements of the highway in Paynesville.

Edwards and Kelcey have also studied traffic flow on a four-lane highway through town and on four-lane bypasses and found them all to handle traffic very well in 20 years. However, a four-lane highway through town would require the roadway to be expanded 50 to 75 feet to the south, which would mean purchasing right-of-way from three dozen homes and businesses on the south side of the current highway.

Edwards and Kelcey are still working on traffic projections for a three-lane highway through town.

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