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Paynesville Press - October 15, 2003

MnDOT opts to keep far west bypass in EIS

By Michael Jacobson

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has decided to include the far west bypass in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which consulting engineers are presently completing.

The Paynesville City Council had asked MnDOT in August to stop working on the far west bypass and to temporarily drop it from consideration. Highway 23 must touch the city limits of Paynesville, a constitutional requirement, and the city council requested MnDOT to drop the route once it became clear that the current council was not willing to waive that requirement.

MnDOT District 3 staff made the decision to keep the far west bypass in the Environmental Impact Statement after talking with the Federal Highway Administration and the engineers at Edwards and Kelcey, the firm doing the EIS, said Lowell Flaten, MnDOT project manager. "We've done most of the investigation, so we thought we'd keep it in the draft EIS," said Flaten.

The Paynesville City Council had met with the board of supervisors from Paynesville Township, the local Highway 23 Task Force, and Flaten in August before passing their resolution asking MnDOT to focus on the other routes.

MnDOT and the engineers from Edwards and Kelcey have done enough work to justify keeping the route in the EIS, if only for comparison, said Flaten. Being that the city council has indicated that it would not be willing to waive the constitutional right to have Highway 23 touch the city limits something that the far west bypass does not do it would be extremely unattractive, according to Flaten, and would not likely be the preferred alternative identified in the Environmental Impact Statement.

The time saved from dropping the far west bypass from consideration would be negligible at this point, added Flaten.

"It was felt that we had done most of the work already, so we should carry it to its logical conclusion," said Flaten. "And it was felt that by dropping (the far west bypass) we wouldn't save an appreciable amount of time or money."

The city council had hoped that stopping work on the far west bypass would allow time and focus to be given to the other four potential routes no build, improve the existing through-town route, an east bypass, and a west bypass. They had told MnDOT that if another route were eliminated they would be willing to revisit the far west bypass.

One of the council's concerns was that the Environmental Impact Statement was taking too long to complete. Originally, in 2001, when this study of Highway 23 in Paynesville started, MnDOT expected that a draft Environmental Impact Statement would be done by the fall of 2002. The draft EIS is now a year late, and it is not expected to be done until the winter of 2004.

The city council rated the west bypass as the best route during an informal survey this summer and the far west bypass as the second worst, better than only the no-build option.

Their decision was not unanimous, though, as some members of the Highway 23 Task Force told Flaten in September that they think all the alternatives should be examined before the best is chosen.

One concern of proponents of keeping the far west bypass in consideration was that other bypass options might still prove worse than the far west, though the council's resolution allowed for the far west to be reconsidered if another bypass option proved unworkable.

Also, at the urging of the Federal Highway Administration, a three-lane highway through town will be considered in the draft EIS, engineer Tom Parker of Kelcey and Edwards told the task force in September. Earlier, this three-lane option was dropped because the improvement in traffic flow did not seem to merit the expense, but it now will be included in the draft EIS, too.

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