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Study to look at problems on Highway 12 corridor

WILLMAR — A year-long study to examine the current problems and long-range vision for the U.S. Highway 12 corridor through the city of Willmar is expected to begin in January.

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to allocate $20,000 toward the $150,000 study.

The Willmar City Council has included $50,000 for the study in the proposed 2014 capital improvement budget, which is expected to be acted upon at council’s Dec. 2 meeting.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will pick up the remaining cost, said Patrick Weidemann, planning director for MnDOT’s District 8 office in Willmar.

The goal of the project is not to design a reconstruction plan, said Weidemann, adding that there isn’t any money available for a major project.

But he said the study will consider the concerns of all the stakeholders and capture the long view of future development if — or when — money does become available.

The study would include the entire Highway 12 corridor through town, from County Road 5 on the west side of town to 45th Street, which is about a mile past the eastern city limits.

Commissioner Doug Reese said it was “insightful” to study the entire route and examine the needs that have been “overlooked” in the past.

Bruce Peterson, Willmar’s city planning director and interim public works director, said there was a study in the past that outlined a reconstruction plan for a segment of Highway 12 but he said this is the first comprehensive corridor study of the entire highway route through the city.

Peterson said this study will not identify specific improvements but will consider issues such as land use, traffic movement and safety that will provide a vision for the corridor.

The study will provide “good direction for the future” for a highway that’s a “vital part of the city’s transportation network,” said Peterson in a brief telephone interview Tuesday.

He said a long-range corridor concept could affect everything from stormwater management to the development of vacant property along the highway.

The idea for a long-range study came about when MnDOT conducted meetings this year to get property owners’ input on a plan to repair a section of Highway 12 next year from Stacey’s Nursery to Haug Implement in east Willmar.

Stakeholders, including business owners along Highway 12, told MnDOT that problems, including inconsistent road design, drainage, intersection crashes and multiple accesses, needed to be reviewed and packaged in a corridor vision.

Butch Haug, from Haug Implement, told the commissioners that Highway 12 is an “economic corridor” for Willmar and its full potential has not been tapped.

He said a study to formalize a vision for how the highway brings traffic into town could be an important economic development tool.

Weidemann said the funds provided by the three partners would be used to hire a consultant. He said MnDOT is currently understaffed and not able to conduct the study in-house.

Weidemann asked the county to contribute at least $15,000 toward the study. Because the corridor is primarily in the city limits, the city is considering contributing $50,000.

Although the initial motion by the County Board called for a $15,000 contribution, an amendment was approved to increase the county’s share to $20,000.

County Park 2, highway update

The commissioners on Tuesday also got an update on the plan to repair the bridge that provides the only vehicle access to County Park 2 on Big Kandiyohi Lake near Lake Lillian.

Deteriorated pilings on the bridge resulted in a decrease of the load rating from 18 tons to 3 tons this fall, which makes it nearly impossible for large vehicles to travel over it.

The commissioners agreed to replace the pilings, deck and railings for an estimated $82,000. With additional soil erosion measures, the total cost is expected to be slightly less than $100,000.

That’s half of the estimated $200,000 cost to replace the bridge with a culvert, which is the option the county typically uses when replacing outdated, deficient bridges.

The project is expected to be completed yet this fall and will be in place before the park opens next spring for the camping season.

The repairs are expected to give the bridge another 50 to 60 years, said Gary Danielson, public works director.

“I think it’s a good solution to that particular problem,” he said.

The commissioners also received an update on several county highway projects, including County Road 38 by Lake Andrew.

Danielson said the road base was in poorer condition than anticipated when the bituminous was removed. That, including a heavy late rainfall, resulted in portions of the road collapsing and creating nearly impossible driving conditions.

Contractors used crushed concrete and asphalt to stabilize the road, which Danielson said is now drivable, but far from perfect. The road will not be completed with bituminous until next spring.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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