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Proposal to improve section of Highway 23/71 gets first public review

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WILLMAR -- A proposal to revamp a 3.5 mile section of Highway 23/71 north of Willmar by building interchanges and closing existing accesses roads drew questions, concerns and suggestions from property owners along the route.

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During a public meeting Monday in Willmar, residents heard about options the Minnesota Department of Transportation is considering for changing the highway.

MnDOT, likewise heard from residents in the first of many public meetings that will be held before construction begins, which will be 2015 at the earliest.

MnDOT says the improvements are needed to accommodate projected growth trends in Kandiyohi County and traffic counts that could double in 20 years.

Safety on the highway is also a concern. This particular stretch of road has a lower average crash rate than the state average, but the severity of the accidents is higher. From 2000 to 2005 there was one fatality.

As traffic increases, safety is expected to diminish.

Scott McBride, an engineer from Short Elliot Hendrickson Inc., said the 3.5 segment of road, located in Dovre Township, has been identified as an "emerging freeway."

He said six options for the highway were initially considered but that three will be scrutinized closely through a lengthy review called an environmental impact statement. The review will consider the social, economic and natural environment impacts the different proposals would have on the area.

On proposal is a do-nothing "no build" option. Law requires that option to be included, but McBride said it will be seriously considered.

Another option is construction of a diamond interchange with ramps at County Road 90, which would be relocated north of its existing location.

The third option includes the new County Road 90 diamond interchange as well as a diamond interchange at County Road 25.

The options also include closing existing access points, or intersections, that dissect the highway.

There are currently nine intersections, or one for every mile. MnDOT prefers one access point per mile.

Gerry Fladeboe, who owns Eagle Lake Country Store, said his business would be negatively affected if the Harrison Garage Road access was closed. The proposals call for closing that road's access to Highway 23/71.

When asked how to get that part of the plan changed, McBride told him to "stay in touch with the process" so MnDOT "hears you loud and clear."

Steve Lottman, owner of the Shutter Shoppe, another business along the corridor, questioned why the freeway status was being attached to the highway and why an "expressway" option had been eliminated from the list of proposals that would be studied further.

The expressway option would maintain several at-grade intersections and close others. That plan doesn't include interchanges with ramps and would eventually require traffic lights to handle traffic, said McBride.

Some of the proposals also include construction of additional collection roads that would connect residential and business areas in the Swan Lake, Skataas Lake areas to the highway.

Kristi Tornquist, who owns farm land in the area, said proposals to build additional collection roads would disrupt her property and make it more difficult to continue using for agriculture. She said while some might think MnDOT was doing her a favor by planning a road through her bare land to enhance development, she said she purchased the land so that it would not be developed.

McBride said MnDOT is "at the very beginning of a complicated process" and that this is the "perfect time" to hear how the proposals will affect people.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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