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Paynesville area residents seek answers on Hwy. 23 plan

Tom Kvas of KGM Contractors, left, and Marlene Theel of Paynesville Motor and Transfer on Tuesday discuss the effect of the Minnesota Highway 23 bypass construction on school bus routes around Paynesvile. Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwerf

PAYNESVILLE -- School bus routes and traffic flow will be concerns during construction of the Minnesota Highway 23 bypass around Paynesville.

However, many of the people at a construction open house Tuesday are anxious to see work begin.

Construction on Highway 23 is expected to begin April 26 and last through August 2012. A groundbreaking is set April 24.

About 30 people attended the open house at Paynesville City Hall, most with specific questions about how the construction will affect them or their property.

Travelers along Highway 23 will continue to follow the current route during construction of the new four-lane road, which will follow a new route around the city. The project is part of a multi-year effort to develop a four-lane Highway 23 from Willmar to St. Cloud.

Paul Rasmussen, a regional engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, described what parts of the project will be done each year in the project, which is scheduled to be done Aug. 31, 2012, if weather cooperates.

Tom Kvas, an engineer with KGM Contractors of Angora, told the group that his company will conduct weekly public meetings during the construction, a 1 p.m. each Thursday at Olson Trucking off County Road 130.

Crews have started staking the right of way for the road, Kvas said, and the grading operation will begin April 26. Concrete paving will be done in 2011.

Construction watchers may notice some differences because of updated equipment. Crews will be placing many fewer stakes than usual, because they will be using GPS-controlled grading equipment, Rasmussen said.

A number of people in the group had questions about when the construction might affect their homes, pointing to a long aerial view of the project area. After a few questions, Kvas suggested that a more informal approach might work better, and he invited everyone up to look at the project.

Marlene Theel, who works for Paynesville Motor and Transfer, said she was concerned about school bus routes during the project.

Theel and Kvas spoke for a time about some homes that will be cut off from their bus route by the construction.

Kvas told her that they would work out the bus company's concerns before school starts.

"I'm kinda excited to see it go through," Theel said before she left, but she added that "there's a lot of kinks to work through."

Theel said Highway 23 traffic in front of Paynesville Area High School is often heavy, and the new route of the highway should help with that.

"I think it's going to be for the better, myself," she said.

Noise is a concern for some residents, but JoAnn Willemsen said she already lives by the airport and railroad tracks, so she's not too worried about that.

Her main concern is that her family's trucking business next to the airport has an adequate approach, "to get in and out of our property safely." She also is concerned about the safety of a bike trail near their property, she said.

"I got some questions answered," she said, and the family will stay in contact with the contractor during construction.

Kvas said some of the main goals for this year are completing the First Street bridge and bridges over railroad tracks.

The construction should go smoothly in at least one respect, because crews will not have to deal with highway traffic on the new route, Kvas said. "You don't find many projects like this any more."

KGM will bring its key personnel to Paynesville to work on the project and will supplement that with labor hired locally, Kvas said.

People in town seem to be genuinely supportive of the road, he added. "Everybody been very cordial; everybody's excited to have us in town."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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