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Paynesville Press - July 20, 2005

City council backs west alignment to MnDOT

By Michael Jacobson

The Paynesville City Council confirmed its support for the west alignment alternative for Highway 23, unanimously approving a letter of comment to MnDOT last week.

MnDOT is accepting comments about its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) until Thursday, July 21. This study will determine the future route of Highway 23. The public can 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.

Mayor Jeff Thompson and council members Jeff Bertram, Jean Soine, and Dennis Zimmerman unanimously approved sending the letter to MnDOT at the city council meeting on Wednesday, July 13. Council member Tom Lindquist was not present at the meeting.

hwy map The letter - written by Thompson and city administrator Steve Helget - rejects the far west bypass as being too far from businesses, too expensive for the city to extend water and sewer lines to new developments, and for not touching the city limits, as is required. Letter to MnDOT

The letter (in the shaded box at right) also rejects improving the through-town route because it would displace nearly 40 homes and businesses; because it would split the city (dividing downtown from most residential areas); and because of negative impacts to air and noise pollution and pedestrian safety.

The east bypass would serve the city better than these two alternatives, but would divide it from the main population base in the township. Plus, it goes through an area that the city has targeted for residential growth, and it would impact the Lake Koronis Recreational Trail.

Not improving Highway 23 - the no-build alternative that is required to be studied - is rejected by the council due to congestion, which would get worse as traffic increases.

"The 'West Alignment Alternative,' compared to the other alternatives, has the least problems and offers the most compromises," concludes the letter. "It would abut the existing city limits and would not split the city. In addition, the cost of extending water and sanitary sewer services to new developments along the highway will be more feasible. The west alternative will better serve the city's existing commercial, retail, and service businesses, as well as our industry."

The city council also noted in its letter that the Lake Koronis Recreational Trail is also scheduled to be extended along Cemetery Road in 2006 and would be impacted by the west bypass and that Lake Avenue would likely need to be rebuilt north of town due to heavier truck traffic to the Industrial Park.

The letter continues support by the council for the west alignment alternative. In August 2003, council members took a survey, with the west bypass rating as their top choice. In February 2005, after Bertram and Lindquist joined the council, they reiterated support for dropping the far west bypass as an option while reiterating support for Highway 23 improvements.

Before the council action last week, Mike Flanders, who represented Roseville Township on the Highway 23 Task Force, told the council that he agreed with their letter and urged them to be vigilant with MnDOT. After serving on the advisory task force, Flanders said that he felt like MnDOT did not really listen to their comments and concerns but noted that they need to listen to the council. (MnDOT needs to have its construction plans approved by the council or face a lengthy appeals process.) Any local control over Highway 23, rests with you, Flanders told the council.

The council did discuss three points, raised by Bertram, dealing with Highway 23: that the process failed, being too slow with inexcusable delays; that traffic counts should be updated now that the four-lane highway from I-94 to Richmond is complete and the four-lane highway from Willmar to New London is nearing completion; and that MnDOT needs to make a decision soon, since people are waiting to learn what is decided.

Bertram offered to make these points in a personal letter. His points got general agreement from the other council members, but they did not include them in the current letter, believing it should focus on the route choice, not the process.

MnDOT plans to use official comments - along with the information gathered in the draft EIS - to determine the "preferred alternative" later this summer or fall.

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