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Willmar council supports Corridors of Commerce funding for Highway 23

WILLMAR — The Highway 23 Coalition continues to work toward closing the two-lane gaps between Willmar and St. Cloud, to create a complete four-lane highway.

In a step toward that goal, the coalition will be applying for Corridors of Commerce funding from the state, to fund both the north and south gap projects. The Willmar City Council on Dec. 18 endorsed the move by approving two resolutions supporting the application.

"It is a critical piece of infrastructure we need for our community," Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin said.

While the coalition would one day like to see the entire length of state Highway 23, from South Dakota to Duluth, a four-lane highway, for the time being they are focusing their efforts closer to home.

The south gap is approximately 7.4 miles of two-lane highway between New London and Paynesville. To transform that into four lanes it would cost around $60 million. The proposed north gap project would convert the 8.7 miles of two-lane between Paynesville and New Richmond into four-lane for approximately $80 million.

"The project will improve highway performance, mobility and safety and will encourage new business growth along the corridor," said Donna Boonstra, vice-chair of the Highway 23 Coalition.

Corridors of Commerce was created in 2013 by the Minnesota Legislature, which authorized the sale of up to $300 million in trunk highway bonds to be used for the construction, reconstruction and improvement of trunk highways across the state. For the next round of projects the Minnesota Department of Transportation will be selecting $400 million worth of projects.

The Corridors of Commerce funding is a highly competitive process.

"There are several highways that want these funds," Boonstra said.

Part of the application process is to collect resolutions of support from impacted jurisdictions, including the city of Willmar among others. The Highway 23 Coalition has members from up and down the corridor.

"The thing that I find encouraging from the Highway 23 coalition is we have support all the way from Stearns County to Marshall. People have climbed on board and said 'yeah, we need to make that happen,'" Calvin said.

The latest round of applications for funding opens Jan. 15 and runs through Feb. 2. Project evaluation and scoring will take place through February and March, with project awards announced at the end of March.

Boonstra also asked council members to send letters to Patrick Weidemann, program director for capital planning at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, regarding the funding split for the corridors money. Since the start of the program the money has been split 50-50 between the metro and greater Minnesota. Now, however, the legislature is looking at the possibility of giving the cities more of the money. Boonstra said those in the cities have already shared their thoughts, and it is now time to make sure the rest of the state is heard.

"We need greater Minnesota to make comments," Boonstra said.

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