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Paynesville Press - April 16, 2003

Minute with Mike

Community must continue to discuss highway

By Michael Jacobson

Highway 23 has been in the headlines of the Press quite a bit so far this year. I expect that will continue.

In fact, I have initiated another medium for discussion of this important road and its future route through or around Paynesville.

On this page, readers will find the first in a series of opinion articles about Highway 23, discussing the pros and cons of the various proposed routes and comments about the decision-making process. For the next several weeks - possibly months - I hope to have an exchange of ideas about Highway 23 and the decision that faces this community.

So far, I have contacted government officials from the city of Paynesville and from Paynesville Township, members of the local Highway 23 Task Force, and business and civic leaders to express their opinions or concerns about this highway decision. I think their informed opinions will be a good basis for an exchange of ideas, and I welcome more submissions from our readers. I hope to hear from members of the general public, too.

It's my belief that the better job this community does in discussing all the options for Highway 23, the better the final decision will be. It is an important decision, so we need to do our best.

I know that all the details of the decision-making process being used by MnDOT to study Highway 23 get long, but I want to include some highlights and thoughts.

While I have heard that some people think a decision has already been made, it has not been made yet. In Paynesville, four main routes continue to be studied: improving the existing route and three bypass routes (east, far west, and west). All four of these routes have potential, or MnDOT would not waste the effort to study them.

I recently read a news story about a similar highway study in Pine River. Up there, the question is where Highway 371 should go. They only have three routes to study: through town, one bypass route, and making no improvements at all.

MnDOT is required to study what they call the "no build" option, just as a guarantee that the project is needed. From the traffic counts and projections, the engineers already have determined that Highway 23 as currently designed will not meet traffic needs in the future. Anyone who has waited to cross or turn onto Highway 23 at any of several spots in town knows this to be true.

Therefore the question, rightfully, is what to do. MnDOT will study improving the existing route through town and the three bypass options because all have at least some merit. They will study the "no build" option only as much as they are required to do so because they are convinced by the traffic data and analysis that Highway 23 does need improvements.

So far, the only conclusions I have heard at the task force meetings are that the new highway should not go right by the high school and middle school campus and that it should turn north by the Kandiyohi-Stearns line and run in the ag fields rather than destroying the woods.

That leaves a lot to decide.

And, no, you and I don't get to vote on the final decision, which is why everyone needs to voice their opinions now. I hope that the final route is popular and widely supported, but the decision-making process will also weigh engineering requirements, social factors, and environmental concerns and will not be just a popularity contest.

In fact, the only folks who will get a direct vote on the highway are the members of the Paynesville City Council. Constitutionally Highway 23 must serve the city of Paynesville, so MnDOT and the city council have to agree on what improvements to make to the road.

Do you have an opinion about the future route of Highway 23 through or around Paynesville? Call Michael Jacobson at 320-243-3772 or e-mail him at to inquire about expressing your opinion.

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