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Much-anticipated bypass around Paynesville, Minn., is set to open about one month earlier than estimated

Crews are finishing work on the Highway 23 bypass near Paynesville. Heavy equipment worked at the site Thursday. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

PAYNESVILLE -- The long-awaited state Highway 23 bypass around the city of Paynesville is expected to open in mid-July -- a good month ahead of schedule.

Construction began in April of 2010 and even though the state budget shutdown put a temporary halt to construction last year, mild fall weather helped crews get ahead of schedule, according to Paul Rasmussen, project engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8 office in Willmar.

All that's left to do is finish planting roadside grass, install lighting and oversized route signs, and paint the road stripes.

Once the finishing touches are completed the barricades will be removed, the celebratory ribbon cut and the road will be open for traffic in a couple weeks.

"It's rides very nice. They did a good job," said Bill Knofczynski, MnDOT project supervisor, referring to KGM Contractors Inc., of Angora, the general contractor.

With a price tag of $32.2 million, the 7.7-mile long concrete bypass skirts the western and northern edges of town. The bypass won't be any shorter than the taking "old" Highway 23 that snakes through the heart of Paynesville, but the 65 mph bypass route will shave several minutes off travel time.

The bypass means there'll be another segment completed in the four-lane route to link central Minnesota communities to I-94 and the Twin Cities.

"It's great," said Willmar businessman Bob Dols, who began lobbying for a four-lane road 15 years ago after decades of lobbying to make state Highway 12 into a four-lane road failed. "We're over halfway there."

Between Willmar and St. Cloud there will be just two segments of Highway 23 that are two-lanes: A nearly 8-mile stretch between New London and Paynesville and a 12-mile stretch between Paynesville and Richmond.

Dols said western Minnesota is the only area in the state without a four-lane highway.

Efforts to get money for the Paynesville bypass and the other four-lane segments, including the section through Spicer, were the result of bipartisan Congressional support. "Everybody worked together for the common good," Dols said.

He predicts that getting funding for the next segment -- the one between New London and Paynesville -- will not be easy.

Planning the Paynesville bypass was years in the making but all the parties agree the decision-making process and the construction project went extremely well.

Contractors and MnDOT officials said the credit goes to the residents, city officials and business people of Paynesville.

"They were so good to work with," Knofczynski said.

Tom Kvass, project manager for KGM, said the people of Paynesville were "a treat" to work with and his employees made good friendships in town. "We were well-received," he said. "Normally you don't get that kind of reception."

Despite being glad the project is nearly done, local businesses will miss the nice influx of workers that spent two years in town eating at restaurants and shopping in stores. And residents will miss the workers who rented homes in Paynesville

"They've been very good neighbors, Mayor Jeff Thompson said.

Reaching the decision to build the new four-lane around the town, rather than through it, took time.

Business people wanted the four-lane to go in front of their doors and residents wanted it as far away as possible from their doors.

But Thompson said it was a good process and once the decision was made everyone agreed to "live with it" and move ahead and make plans accordingly.

"Not everybody is happy but nobody's really upset," Thompson said.

On the west end of the project the four-lane bypass will leave the two-lane and curve to the left. That end of old Highway 23 will be removed and replaced with a cul-de-sac.

There will be three exits off the bypass into Paynesville.

The city has plans to develop city-owned land near one bypass for commercial use and private property at another exist is up for sale.

At the east end of the project, the old Highway 23 will merge with the bypass between Paynesville and Roscoe.

After the bypass opens up MnDOT will closely monitor traffic flows and keep an eye out for issues that could be corrected with signage, said Rasmussen. It'll take a while for drivers to adapt to the new road and he knows there will be phone calls from drivers during the first few months.

"This is going to be a good road for a long time," Rasmussen said.

Carolyn Lange

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

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