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Yellow Medicine County OKs replacing part of road to casino

GRANITE FALLS -- That long and winding road that leads the last few miles to Prairie's Edge Casino Resort is about to be replaced by a direct route to the front door.

The Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners gave their consent to a proposal that will allow the Upper Sioux Community to replace a portion of County Road 44 with a new extension of its own road, Prairie's Edge Lane. They approved the proposal on a four-to-one vote, with member Gary Johnson casting the no vote.

The project, which will be slated for 2009 construction, will directly connect Prairie's Edge Lane and Minnesota Highway 274 near its intersection with Minnesota Highway 23. It will eliminate two turns that motorists bound for the casino from Highway 23 now take by building an approximate, 3,500-feet long extension of Prairie's Edge Lane. The portion of new roadway will be built on land owned by the tribe, according to Duane Hansel, engineer with Bolton & Menk, in a presentation to the commissioners.

The project will be funded mainly by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Upper Sioux Community will be responsible for the long term maintenance of the roadway.

The new alignment is proposed in large part to eliminate the confusion that now exists for motorists as they follow Highways 23, 274 and County Road 44 to Prairie's Edge Lane, according to the engineer. It also recognizes the fact that the majority of traffic on those road segments is casino bound, he said.

The county road used to carry an average of 240 vehicles a day before the casino opened, according to Andy Sanders, Yellow Medicine County highway engineer. A traffic count taken a few years after the opening of the new casino showed average daily traffic over 2,400 vehicles. The vehicle counts on Highway 274 also reflect a dramatic increase in traffic bound for the casino.

Yellow Medicine County will not have to repay state aid funds that were used in rebuilding the county road about nine years ago, according to Tom Behm with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Those costs would be forgiven since the county is abandoning that portion of the road at the bequest of a third party, he explained.

The department has signaled its approval of the plan. The straight alignment should improve traffic safety. The department also plans to rebuild the intersection with Highway 23 in conjunction with the project. An entrance lane will allow vehicles to make a right turn on to the north bound lanes of Highway 23 without stopping.

Yellow Medicine County will discuss whether to maintain the remaining segment of its county road as a County State Aid Highway, or assign the state funds it receives for that portion of roadway to another road.

Commissioner Jane Remiger said she would like to see discussion initiated on whether to consider taking over Highway 274 from the state and using funds to develop a second, 10-ton route to the community of Wood Lake. She said Highway 274 is the only 10-ton route for the community, and the absence of a second route forces some truckers to travel extra miles for certain destinations.

Johnson, who cast the only vote against the proposed casino road project, voiced his concerns about the $450,000 that had been spent to rebuild the roadway. A portion of that road will now likely be razed.