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Editorial: Highway 23 gaps are still a regional challenge

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 West central Minnesota and Willmar are continuing the drive to gain four-lane access to the world via Minnesota Highway 23, a long-term quest that began in the later part of the 20th century.
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 The four-lane access moved one step closer in 2012 with the completion of the 7½-mile, four-lane bypass section around Paynesville, which cost $32.2 million.

  Now, one decade into the 21st century, west central Minnesota still remains the only region without significant four-lane access. Willmar remains the only regional center and the only 20,000+ population city within Minnesota without adequate four-lane access.  The region remains just two 7-mile segments short of its goal of achieving a fourlane connection to the U.S. Interstate system. 

 This quest has been a long and slow process. The first step of a two-lane bypass around Willmar came in the 1980s, which was later expanded to a four-lane in 2001. The segments from Spicer to New London and from Richmond to Wait Park were both completed in 2005. And the Paynesville bypass followed last year.

 

 Despite the lack of four-lane access, Willmar has developed and grown as a regional center. Yet the completing the fourlane corridor will improve economic opportunities.

 

 The city continues to persevere in its quest for four-lane access. As Bob Dols, chair of the Highway 23 Task Force, said in August, Highway 23 backers are not going away.

 

 Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, called Friday for a “Corridors of Commerce” plan to use competitive state grants, augmented by local funding, to target critical transportation links, like Highway 23, for regional and statewide economic growth.

 

 Advocates should continue their efforts to fill the gaps along Highway 23 on either side of Paynesville. Completing those two 7-mile segments would have a positive impact upon all communities along this highway. 

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