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|Paynesville Press - August 10, 2005|
$7.1 million in federal funds designated for Highway 23
While a decision about the future route of Highway 23 remains open, MnDOT has set a tentative construction date for the project, after $7.1 million was allocated for the project in a federal transportation bill.|
Though President Bush still needs to sign the Transportation Equity Act, the bill includes $7.1 million in funding for Highway 23 in Paynesville as a high-priority project. With this money, MnDOT now plans for construction on Highway 23 (if any) in 2009.
Four Minnesota Congressmen included Highway 23 in Paynesville among their high-priority projects: $2.5 million by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-St. Paul), $2 million by Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-Watertown), $1.6 million by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Detroit Lakes), and $1 million for Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minneapolis).
Getting four earmarks from Congressmen was unusual, said Pat Weideman, director of planning for the Willmar MnDOT office. "We're happy and very appreciative of all the support," said Weideman. "I think it's amazing to get that kind of Congressional support."
The Highway 23 project in Paynesville had $4.5 million included this spring in the House version of the bill ($2.5 million by Kennedy and $2 million by Peterson as a high-priority project). The House version was reduced by 20 percent in conference committee with the Senate, reducing the earmarks to ($2 million by Kennedy and $1.6 million by Peterson).
Since Paynesville actually lies within Kennedy's district, the appropriation from Peterson was unusual, said a Peterson staff member, in that it lies outside his district. The appropriation recognizes the importance of the project to Willmar and as a major route serving southwestern Minnesota, the staffer added. Plus, Peterson has represented Paynesville in the past.
Individual appropriations are done in the Senate towards the end of the bill, after an agreement has been reached on the total cost in conference committee. After that agreement, the appropriations by Coleman ($2.5 million) and Dayton ($1 million) were added.
Kennedy - who planned to come to Paynesville on Tuesday, Aug. 9, to present a check to the city - also included $3 million in a 2005 fiscal year appropriation for Highway 23, of which $1.9 million has already been received by MnDOT. The other $1.1 million should be available once that bill is signed into law, said a Kennedy staffer, which would give the Paynesville project $10.1 million total in federal funds.
This transportation bill was overdue, having been delayed in Congress since 2003.
Congressmen like for these high-priority projects to be started within the life of the six-year bill, said Weideman, giving MnDOT impetus to get this project started in 2009. Without federal funds, MnDOT had not scheduled the Paynesville project until 2017.
With the comment period on the draft Environmental Impact State-ment (EIS) just being completed in July, MnDOT and its consulting engineers are now addressing these comments in the EIS and are preparing to choose a "preferred alternative" this fall.
Then, MnDOT will need to finish the EIS, start the actual design, and begin right-of-way acquisition, said Weideman, who expressed confidence that MnDOT could meet the accelerated deadlines for the project.
MnDOT will also need to review the scale of the project. While MnDOT could get $10.1 million in federal funds for a Highway 23 project, the most recent cost estimates for four of the five route alternatives exceeds that amount. The cost of the east bypass is estimated at $36 million; the cost of the west bypass is estimated at $32 million; the cost of the far west bypass is estimated at $30 million; and the cost of improving the thru-town route is estimated at $18 million. Only the no-build option, required to be studied, has a lower estimated cost at $1 million.
MnDOT will also pursue options for additional federal funding, said Weideman. The Paynesville project could be let in the fall of 2008, with construction starting in 2009, according to Weideman, who said that a more detailed schedule should be available in a couple of months.
Draft EIS Comments MnDOT received 85 comments - 20 oral comments at the public hearing in June and 65 written comments - about the draft Environ-mental Impact Study, the study being done to determine the future route of Highway 23 in Paynesville.
MnDOT and its consulting engineers are currently reviewing and addressing these comments. They plan to select the "preferred alternative" this fall.
Watch the Press next week for a more detailed look at the written comments on the draft EIS. Total comments (85) included 68 from individuals; ten from governmental agencies, including the city of Paynesville (backing the west route), Roseville Township (also backing the west route), and Zion Township (expressing concern about the road connections to north of town if either the west or far west route is chosen); three from Indian tribes (which raised no objections but two of which asked for input if any human remains are found); two from Chamber of Commerces; and two petitions. The Paynesville Area Chamber of Commerce said that a bypass would be okay if speeds were reduced and multiple accesses were made to the community, and the Willmar Lakes Chamber of Commerce backed the west route.
A petition from 168 Koronis Hills Golf Course members and patrons expressed opposition to the east route, which would eliminated the driving range, maintenance garage, and part of the second hole at the course.
A petition from 73 business people in the community cited their concerns about the loss of business if traffic is diverted on a new highway. In light of the Paynesville City Council backing the west route, these business people asked for input on the final design, including slower speeds, on stoplight placement, on directing traffic through town via a Business 23, on streetlights, and on landscaping.
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