Saint Cloud Times / Nora G. Hertel on June 5, 2019
St. Cloud — Commuters can soon expect detours around the Interstate Highway 94 and Minnesota Highway 23 interchange. As that project wraps up, plans will solidify for major construction at Highway 23 and U.S. Highway 10. And still other improvements are in the works along other parts of Highway 23, which stretches from southwestern Minnesota through St. Cloud and all the way to Duluth.
That construction might cause temporary headaches for motorists, but transportation advocates say it’s good for economic development and safety. The Highway 23 Coalition lobbies state lawmakers to prioritize Central Minnesota projects, and members will head to Washington D.C. in a couple weeks to promote transportation spending, said Aaron Backman, the group’s secretary treasurer. Backman also is executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission. Members of the coalition hoped the Legislature would fund four new projects along the corridor this year, but they didn’t make the budget and lawmakers couldn’t agree on a bonding package.
There is good news, Backman said. The state has pushed up some Highway 23 projects, including a one-year advancement of the Interstate 94 project, which includes new exit loop ramps. ”That’s significant,” Backman said about the improved timeline. The Department of Transportation factors in need and funding at the district and state level when it prioritizes projects, said spokeswoman Jenny Seelen.
Here’s a list of upcoming Highway 23 projects in order of when they’ll start.
Interstate 94 and Highway 23
“Every time I come up to that interchange, I’m always on alert,” Backman said. Construction on the project will run from July to June 2020, according to the Department of Transportation’s website on interstate projects in Central Minnesota. It includes construction of exit loop ramps for the interchange south of Waite Park. Ramps will close with detours directing drivers to the Highway 15 interchange, according to the Transportation Department.
Highway 23 east of St. Cloud
The stretch from Benton County Road 1 to Minnesota Highway 95 will be resurfaced in 2020, according to the state’s project page. Related: More than a ticket: First-year state trooper patrols with pride
The intersection at Benton County Road 8 will be reconstructed with a reduced conflict intersection design, meant to decrease crashes by preventing left turns onto Highway 23 and requiring a right turn, followed by a U-turn with designated lanes. The project adds pedestrian accessibility at County Road 8 too, according to the DOT. Highway 23 will have lane shifts and closures and reduced speeds during construction. And access to the highway from County Road 8 will be closed.
Highway 10 overpass
The Highway 23 bridge at Highway 10, built in 1957, is aging and needs to be replaced, said Britt Berner, a senior transportation planner with SRF Consulting. The state has been collecting information in May and June from focus groups around the overpass, Berner said. Construction is slated for 2022 and will cost an estimated $30 million, according to the Department of Transportation’s project page. Off and on ramps will be reconfigured and safer bike and pedestrian crossings will be included, according to the department.
The focus groups mark a second round of public input on the project, Berner said. Attendees are weighing in on four design options. Next the state will pick the design that is most liked and most feasible, she said. And in the fall, members of the public can share opinions on the project again at open houses.
Last year the state awarded $105 million to add lanes north and south of Paynesville to make the Highway 23 corridor four-lanes the entire 53 miles from Willmar to Interstate 94, according to the Department of Transportation. “Highway 23 is an important inter-regional corridor that is a key artery for the economy in the region,” according to the state page on the project. “It provides the primary east-west route connecting Willmar to Interstate 94 and beyond.” Construction on the stretch from Paynesville to Richmond will begin in spring 2022, according to Transportation Department. Work on the stretch from New London to Paynesville starts in spring 2023.
The state is working on right-of-way and land acquisition for the stretch between Paynesville and Richmond, Backman said. About 13 homes have to be moved, he said.
Other coalition goals on hold
The Highway 23 Coalition pushed for four additional projects this year that did not get funding from the Legislature:
- Roundabout and route study in Foley for an estimated $2 million.
- Overpass in Willmar at Kandiyohi County Road 55 to cost the state and county $3.9 million each.
- Intersection safety study at Clara City costing about $100,000.
- A four-lane extension at Marshall for 4.5 miles that would cost about $27 million.
The state transportation budget this year was a “status quo package,” Backman said. It included about $100 million in new spending, and two-thirds of that went to remedy problems with the state’s licensing system MNLARS, he said.