Controversy comes on the heels of bypass funding request

WILLMAR -- Funding for the proposed state Highway 23 bypass at Paynesville will be debated Tuesday when the Southwest Minnesota Area Transportation Partnership decides which projects will receive federal dollars in 2009.

WILLMAR -- Funding for the proposed state Highway 23 bypass at Paynesville will be debated Tuesday when the Southwest Minnesota Area Transportation Partnership decides which projects will receive federal dollars in 2009.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8 is requesting $22 million of the federal funds the Area Transportation Partnership allocates to qualifying state, county and city transit projects in District 8's 12-county area. The Paynesville Highway 23 bypass, however, is mostly located in MnDOT's District 3. This is the first time that the Southwest Minnesota Area Transportation Partnership has received a request to fund a project outside the district.

Four counties have passed resolutions opposing the use of District 8 federal funding on a District 3 project. They say there are needs within the district that need the money.

But governments and organizations in Kandiyohi County are urging the partnership to support funding the bypass because they say it will benefit the region.

MnDOT District 3 said it doesn't have enough money to cover its main transit priorities, and the Paynesville bypass isn't one of them, according to District 3's assistant engineer. Paynesville is located on the southern edge of Stearns County, and the project is about 2 miles outside the District 8 borders.


"It's unfortunate that this project is right on the edge of District 3 and District 8," Paynesville Mayor Jeff Thompson said.

The Southwest Minnesota Area Transportation Partnership is made up of county and economic development leaders, engineers and transportation officials. It decides how to distribute federal transportation funding allocated to District 8, which is made up of 12 counties: Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Murray, Pipestone, Redwood, Renville and Yellow Medicine.

The four-lane Paynesville bypass project is estimated to cost $48 million, said Dave Trooien, MnDOT District 8 engineer.

Almost $10 million has been earmarked for the project in the federal transportation and appropriations bills.

MnDOT District 8 is requesting the $22 million from the partnership over three years: 2009, 2010 and 2011. The rest of the money for the project will come from District 8 state funding, Trooien said.

MnDOT is requesting $7 million of the $23.2 million available in 2009, Trooien said. If that is granted, it leaves $16.2 million for the remaining project requests, which total about $24 million.

If the bypass project receives the 2009 partnership money, the project also will be approved for funding in 2010 and 2011, Trooien said.

Trooien said District 8 doesn't know what it will do if it doesn't receive the partnership money. As district engineer, Trooien has the authority to override the partnership's decision.


The Murray, Lyon, Renville and Yellow Medicine county boards have each approved resolutions asking the partnership not to fund the project, or at least not without District 3 funding. Some said MnDOT could still use the earmarked federal dollars for right of way acquisition and fund the bypass through other means.

"Renville County believes that although the Paynesville bypass is a worthwhile project, District 8 has many unfunded needs and District 8 ATP (Area Transportation Partnership) dollars should be spent in District 8," the Renville County Board's resolution states.

Marlin Larson, Renville County public works director, said the county is concerned about obtaining federal funding for projects in the county's five-year plan.

Murray County Engineer Randy Groves said the district has less federal money available than in the past because MnDOT took some of that money to create two new funds: the Central Mobility Fund and the Central Bridge Fund. He and other county engineers say the criteria for this money favors metro projects.

"It's harder for counties to compete for those federal dollars," Groves said.

The Mid-Minnesota Development Commission, which serves Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker and Renville counties, has two representatives on the Area Transportation Partnership. The commission came to a consensus that its members should vote to fund the Paynesville project, said Donn Winckler, Mid-Minnesota executive director.

The board reviewed Renville County's resolution opposing the funding and letters supporting the funding from Kandiyohi County, Willmar Mayor Les Heitke, the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission and the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

Nearly 7,000 people come into Kandiyohi County daily from seven surrounding counties to work, wrote Steve Renquist, development commission executive director, in his letter.


"Some of those jobs are here because of the confluence of transportation systems uniquely found in Willmar," he wrote.

Business growth in west central Minnesota depends on the reliability of the Highway 23 corridor, Chamber representatives wrote in its letter.

The goal in creating a four-lane highway from Willmar to St. Cloud has been to eventually have a four-lane connection from Duluth to Sioux Falls, S.D., Thompson said. He said if the bypass isn't funded, District 3 may not be as willing to build a four-lane from Paynesville to Richmond. So far, the highway is four lanes from Willmar to New London and then from Richmond to St. Cloud.

"This project would take many years to complete if it wasn't for District 8 being willing to carry the ball," Thompson said.

The Southwest Minnesota Area Transportation Partnership meets 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday in the multi-purpose conference room at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building in Willmar.

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