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Paynesville Press - Sept. 21, 2005

Highway 23 decision expected at task force meeting

By Michael Jacobson

The decision about the "preferred alternative," the future route of Highway 23 in Paynesville, is expected to be announced this week at a meeting with the local highway task force on Wednesday afternoon. This meeting will start at 3 p.m. at the Paynesville Area Center.

The "preferred alternative" was selected by MnDOT in consultation with the Federal Highway Admini-stration and the engineering firm Edwards and Kelcey, which is preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

A 100-page draft EIS was published in June, and MnDOT received 95 comments about the document during a 45-day comment period this summer. These comments, as well as the information in the study itself, were used to pick the "preferred alternative."

MnDOT project manager Lowell Flaten said the "preferred alternative" will be announced this week, as well as more details about this proposed route.

Five alternatives were studied in the draft EIS: no build, improving the thru-town route, and three bypass routes (east, far west, and west). This project only involves the immediate Paynesville area, from a couple miles east of Paynesville to a couple miles west.

The final EIS, which will include responses to comments raised to the draft EIS, and the record of decision, officially making the "preferred alternative" the future route of Highway 23 for Paynesville, are expected in 2006. This study of Highway 23 was started in July 2001. The record of decision originally was expected by the summer of 2003; right now, the study is roughly 33 months behind schedule.

This summer, $7.1 million in federal funds were dedicated to this project in the highway bill. With another $1.9 million received last year, MnDOT has tentatively scheduled this project for 2009. Without federal funds, MnDOT had not scheduled the project until 2017.

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