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Paynesville bypass work would stop in case of shutdown

Crews continue to work Thursday on the massive bypass around the city of Paynesville. The project would come to a standstill if state lawmakers can't come to a compromise on a budget. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

A three-year, $32.2 million project to build a highway bypass ar-ound Paynesville will come to a screeching halt next month if a budget impasse results in a state shutdown.

With his own layoff notice in hand, Paul Rasmussen, project engineer from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said plans are being made to temporarily suspend the project in case the shutdown becomes a reality.

"It's certainly going to be a delay in getting it done," said Rasmussen on Thursday, shortly after Gov. Dayton rejected a new GOP budget offer.

"It's going to throw a huge clinker into a lot of things."

A state shutdown is expected to incr-ease the cost of the massive, eight-mile long bypass project, currently scheduled to be completed in August of 2012.

Under terms of the contract, contractors can file a claim against the state seeking reimbursement for additional costs associated with any delay related to a shutdown, costs for such things as moving equipment on and off the site, idle equipment or shutting down starting up the project again.

"The claims could be big and pretty detailed and complicated," said Rasmussen. "And expensive."

Besides the general contractor -- KGM from Angora -- there are three major subcontractors from Paynesville, Mora and Mayer. All those private sector employees will be essentially laid off during the shutdown unless they can find work elsewhere.

Gov. Mark Dayton rejected a proposal by GOP transportation leaders Thursday for a special legislative session to pass a transportation-funding bill that would keep summer highway construction going. He said that he would not accept one part of the budget before agreeing to an overall package.

Legislative transportation chairmen Sen. Joe Gimse of Willmar and Rep. Michael Beard of Shakopee said that passing a transportation bill, funded by transportation-related taxes that cannot be spent for other programs, could keep up to 10,000 construction and state workers on the job.

Without a special session, they said, a government shutdown would suspend work on roads across the state and cost millions of dollars to mothball projects and later restart once a budget passes.

Until now, the Paynesville bypass project had been going well, especially considering the wet fall last year and the wet spring this year, Rasmussen said. The sandy soil in the project area, which starts at the northern edge of Kandiyohi County and swings around Paynesville into Stearns County, helped contractors keep on schedule, he said.

Work on the eight bridges, include two over the Crow River, two over Highway 55, two over railroad tracks and one near each end of the project, are nearly complete.

To prepare for a potential shutdown, Rasumussen said contractors are concentrating on finishing up sections of the project and are not opening up new earth-moving sites.

Preparations include proper signage and "getting things buttoned up with erosion control and seeding as best we can," Rasmussen said.

"We have a plan to suspend the project for now to make sure it's safe for the public and the environment," he said. "I hope people are careful when they come up to projects that are shut down."

But the intention is to resume work this summer and fall, he said.

The shutdown would have to last "for a long time" before a decision was made to close down the construction project for the rest of the year.

"There are more unknowns at this point than there are knowns," said Rasmussen.

Gimse and Beard plan a statewide tour next week to promote their request for a special session to address transportation funding.

"There is no logical reason to shut down construction," Gimse said.

The chairmen have written a new transportation funding bill that would spend $4.6 billion.

Gimse said that road funding is especially important this year because of "extreme" damage winter weather caused to state roads. With a short construction season, he said, any work suspension would end up leaving some roads unfixed.

Don Davis, of the Forum Communications Co. Capitol Bureau, contributed to this report.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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