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MnDOT requests city support for Hwy. 23/County 5 interchange grant

The Minnesota Department of Transportation's local office is applying for a grant to build an interchange at this intersection of state Highway 23 and Kandiyohi County Road 5 southwest of Willmar. If the grant were approved, MnDOT also would seek to finish the remainder of the four-lane bypass. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- Safety and traffic flow would be improved if the Minnesota Department of Transportation approves an application for a grant to build an interchange at the intersection of state Highway 23 and County Road 5, located southwest of Willmar.

The grant application planned by MnDOT's District 8 Office in Willmar will compete for a share of $30 million made available by the Minnesota Legislature in 2008 and 2009 to build interchanges that meet certain criteria in greater Minnesota.

Lawmakers made the money available "for the economic vitality of the state,'' said Patrick Weidemann, MnDOT District 8 planning director. The Legislature also made $30 million available to build interchanges meeting the same criteria in the metro area.

The program is looking for interchanges that can be constructed by 2013 and can link substantial economic investment and vitality to the interchange, in addition to addressing safety concerns or congestion problems, according to Weidemann.

Each MnDOT district is submitting applications. Applications are due the second week of June. MnDOT will review and rank applications between June and the end of July.

"Hopefully sometime in August we'll hear on awards,'' he said.

The Kandiyohi County Board is slated to take up the issue of support for the funding application at its meeting Tuesday.

If the application is approved, MnDOT's Willmar office will add a couple million dollars in district funds to complete construction of the remaining four-lane portion of the Highway 23 bypass between U.S. Highway 71 and the interchange site, Weidemann said.

The cost of the interchange, with a bridge over the highway, plus four-lane construction, is estimated at $12 million.

"If we're going to put that all in, we want to finish the Willmar bypass,'' Weidemann said.

The cost is helped considerably because MnDOT owns almost all of the right-of-way land needed for construction and the grading. Those tasks were completed in 1982 as part of the Highway 23 bypass.

"It just was never paved or the bridge put in,'' he said. "We have some advantages going to us.''

The application will emphasize the economic importance of the extension of County Road 5 from U.S. Highway 12 to 19th Avenue Southwest through the old airport, and redevelopment of the old airport into an industrial park. The application also will detail construction of new sewer lines for the city's new wastewater treatment facility through the area.

"The city has put a lot of resources in redeveloping that area, as has the county. The application awards points for that kind of investment. I wanted to make sure I captured that,'' Weidemann said.

For that reason, Weidemann will ask the City Council to support the application. The council's Public Works/Safety Committee met earlier this week and recommended the council support the application.

Committee Chairman Doug Reese said he hopes the application is approved. He cited a number of crashes at the intersection.

Weidemann said two fatal crashes have occurred there in the last 10 years, and safety concerns add points in the application.

"It is the southern entry into the city, and by improving it we'll help the general flow into and out of Willmar,'' he said.

The grant program is competitive and Willmar may not receive the grant, "but at least it demonstrates a good candidate for what this program was intended for.''

The application will be considered during the council's regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in the chambers at the Municipal Utilities Building, 700 Litchfield Ave. S.W.

In other business, the council will hold the assessment hearing for 2009 improvements, and consider an ordinance relating to criminal history background checks for city employment and city licenses.

The council will take comments from the public during the open forum, and will receive reports from the Finance Committee, the Public Works/Safety Committee and the Community Development Committee.