Highway 40 turnback would aid the city's economic development plans

WILLMAR -- State Highway 40 between County Road 47 and U.S. Highway 12 would become a city street, if the state approves a request by the Willmar City Council.

WILLMAR -- State Highway 40 between County Road 47 and U.S. Highway 12 would become a city street, if the state approves a request by the Willmar City Council.

The council Monday night voted to ask the Minnesota Department of Transportation to give the city jurisdiction over that portion of Highway 40.

The turnback, as the process is called, would let the city vacate a portion of Highway 40 and undertake industrial expansion projects in the former airport.

The former airport is located on the north side of Highway 40.

The council approved a resolution stating the city accepts the turnback of Highway 40 in southwest Willmar.


Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services, said the state would not be providing any future funds for improving the road should repairs be needed.

In most cases, turnbacks are initiated by the state and the state provides money to bring the road to a particular condition before the road is accepted by a governmental unit. In this case, there would be no studies done to determine future usage or the necessary level of funds, he said.

"It's not been that many years since Highway 40 was improved, and we are fairly confident in the condition of that section of Highway 40 that would remain as a city street once that portion is no longer used as state Highway 40,'' said Peterson.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said it's not very often that a city will ask the state to turn back a state road to a city.

"In this case, we did it to meet our own economic development projects that we need to address in the very near future,'' said Schmit. He said MnDOT was making sure the city understood that no money would be available if the road needed reconstruction.

Council member Doug Reese said he was glad to see the proposal for economic development reasons and said a bad intersection at Highway 40 and U.S. Highway 12 will be eliminated.

"I think that be a great improvement,'' he said. "There won't be the traffic that we do have now.''

In an interview, Peterson said the city has been looking at the proposed turnback when preliminary planning started over a year ago for airport redevelopment.


Peterson said Highway 40 will terminate at County Road 47. Access to U.S. Highway 12 will be provided by driving north on a new county road being proposed through the old airport site between Highways 12 and 40.

Rerouting is also envisioned for a portion of Willmar Avenue Southwest across the old airport. Drivers heading east into Willmar will proceed north for about one-quarter of a mile, then pick up Willmar Avenue, which will curve south and east to existing Willmar Avenue.

In other business, the council approved plans and specifications and called for bids to be opened next February for construction of the connection between the Civic Center and the Blue Center.

The plans were prepared by Engan Associates of Willmar at the direction of the council earlier this year, said Schmit. Construction would be from April through September, with occupancy in October.

The project will include a new entrance and lobby, new concession area, new locker room, a multipurpose space and locker room area in the former Civic Center entrance, storage and coaches' dressing room.

The connection will be constructed of durable concrete block and exposed steel, and a clear upper story and numerous windows will provide a bright gathering area, said Engan.

The project will be paid by the local option sales tax.

Council member Jim Dokken said he supports the project, but asked Schmit to explain why the $980,000 budget exceeds the original $300,000 estimate on the sale tax ballot question.


Schmit said no detailed cost analysis was done when the city began discussing the sale tax idea in 2003. The original estimate was based on the distance between the buildings. Since then, material costs have increased significantly, he said.

Dokken asked City Attorney Richard Ronning if he saw any difficulty with the cost increase with respect to the sales tax vote by the public.

Ronning said he did not see any legal issue arising. "Anybody knows it's an estimate. That's all it can be, so I do not see it as a legal problem,'' he said.

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