GRANITE FALLS -- Minnesota Highway 23 would become Southwest Minnesota's long-sought, four-lane transportation corridor if a new coalition is successful.
Communities from Pipestone to Willmar were represented Wednesday evening as the newly formed -- and as yet unnamed -- coalition held its organizational meeting in Granite Falls.
"It is a long process," said Steve Strautz, a member of the Marshall Chamber of Commerce transportation committee, who emphasized the urgency of getting the work started.
Strautz said that the group would like to replicate the success that Willmar has seen by promoting a corridor approach to developing the four-lane connection to St. Cloud.
"I can't stress enough, we are all in this together," said Ken Warner, director of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, emphasizing the importance of building support along the entire corridor.
The Marshall Chamber of Commerce has already been working to focus attention on developing the Willmar to I-90 corridor concept. It has been urging the Minnesota Department of Transportation to undertake a freight study in the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Willmar district covering southwest Minnesota.
It would also like to see a separate Willmar to I-90 corridor study undertaken, according to Doug Weiszhaar, a consultant with WSB and Associates of St. Cloud, and former deputy transportation director during the Ventura administration.
It would cost over $567 million to develop the 144-mile long highway from I-90 to Willmar into a four-lane route, according to what are admittedly rough estimates by the organizers. They have detailed a plan for adding lanes, expanding bridges and interchanges to develop the route.
"It's something that doesn't happen overnight," Weiszhaar said. He said the group will emphasize the need for sequential development, or re-building portions of the route to meet the overall goal of a four-lane route.
Strautz said the Marshall Chamber has met with Minnesota's Democratic Reps. Jim Oberstar and Collin Peterson and U.S. Sen, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and found them supportive of the corridor approach. The coalition also hopes that the expected infusion of federal funding for transportation as part of an economic recovery program could help launch some of the Highway 23 projects.
Weiszhaar and coalition members said they will be emphasizing the fact that only Southwest Minnesota and the forested border country are the only regions in the state lacking a four-lane corridor. "There is a huge hole in Southwest Minnesota as far as how far we are from four-lane transportation," Strautz said.