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MnDOT plans passing lanes near Raymond in 2016: Open house to discuss plans; future plans for lanes by Clara City

WILLMAR — More trucks than ever are rumbling down Minnesota Highway 23 from Willmar to Interstate 90, and that’s true for passenger vehicles of all types too. Year-by-year, freight and traffic volume of all types is increasing on the commercial corridor, according to Susann Karnowski, project manager with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

That’s why — starting in 2016 — the Minnesota Department of Transportation is planning to build passing lanes along portions of the route with the heaviest traffic volumes to improve mobility and capacity.

Two passing lanes will be built near Raymond in 2016. MnDOT is planning to build an eastbound passing lane on the east side of the community and a westbound passing lane on the west side, according Karnowski.

She will be at the Raymond Community Center from 4 to 6 p.m. today to answer questions about the plans during an open house for the public being hosted by MnDOT. Others involved with the project will also be on hand to answer questions and gather input from those using or living along the route.

The passing lanes are part of a state Corridors of Commerce bonding issue approved by the state Legislature to improve freight traffic on the state’s main commerce arteries.

At any given time, heavy vehicles comprise anywhere from 8.7 percent to 16.5 percent of Highway 23 traffic, according to MnDOT.

The bonding funds are available to build the passing lanes near Raymond in 2016, and preliminary plans are being developed. That’s why input from the public is so important at this point, said Karnowski. The input can help engineers develop plans that best meet the needs of those using and living along the corridor.  

The segment from Raymond to Willmar sees some of the highest vehicle counts along the entire route. Consequently, the passing lanes near Raymond are among those with the Tier 1 or highest priority, and funds are earmarked for work in 2016.

There are not enough funds to build all of the passing lanes MnDOT is proposing along the entire route from Willmar to I-90 in 2016. There are plans to build an eastbound passing lane on the east side of Clara City when funds become available in the future, according to Karnowski.

She said it’s impossible to know at this point when that might be. If bids for the 2016 work come in lower than projected, work on passing lanes with a lower priority rating, such as those near Clara City, could be included.

In most cases, MnDOT already has most of the right-of-way needed for the passing lane projects along the corridor. It is confident that the work proposed for 2016 will be able to go forward as scheduled.

Karnowski noted that traffic on Highway 23 from Willmar to I-90 is projected to continue to increase in the years ahead. Currently, the average daily traffic count on the highway just south of the Willmar bypass is 5,900. It’s expected to rise to 7,400 by 2040 if the current rate of growth continues.

Traffic volumes along the I-90 to Willmar corridor are greatest near the two regional centers, Willmar and Marshall. The operational speeds near those communities decrease as vehicle numbers increase, and what MnDOT refers to as platooning occurs. Lines of vehicles form behind slower moving traffic. They are unable to pass due to the high numbers of oncoming vehicles.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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