WJON A.M. 1240 / Jim Maurice on May 14, 2019
SAUK RAPIDS — As the debate continues down in St. Paul on how to increase funding for state transportation projects, a coalition of supporters of improvements to Highway 23 is touting its successes.
Aaron Backman is the Secretary/Treasurer of the Highway 23 Coalition. He says they successfully lobbied the state legislature in 2018 to fully fund a four-lane road for a seven-mile stretch and nine-mile stretch of the highway between Interstate-94 and Willmar. Backman says construction of the northern gap will start in 2022 and construction on the southern gap will be in 2023. ”It’s more complicated than just saying go start construction. They have to do land acquisition, right-of-way access, there are 14 homes that have to be bought and moved on the north gap and about 13 on the south gap. That takes time.” — Backman
Backman says both projects will take two years. A total of $105 million was secured through the state’s Corridors of Commerce program for the two projects, which when complete will make Highway 23 a four-lane divided highway all the way from St. Cloud to Willmar. Meanwhile, a dangerous interchange just west of Waite Park has been moved up on the Minnesota Department of Transportation priority list. Backman says you’ll see improvements to the Highway 23/Interstate 94 interchange already this year, instead of waiting until next year.
“What this will do is add off ramps on two sides so it will be a half clover situation – one on the north and one on the south – that means people will be able to use those ramps safely to come onto Highway 23.” — Backman
Backman says MnDOT will go out for bids on this project on June 7th and he expects construction to start later this year. Moving forward the group has identified their next top four priorities. The Coalition says widening the highway to four lanes between Foley and Milaca is one of them. Backman says the planned roundabout scheduled for 2022 near the high school in Foley is a good start. He says there have been seven fatalities between Foley and Foreston in just the past two years. Other priorities for the group are an overpass near Willmar, the Highway 23/Highway 7 intersection in Clara City, and an intersection near Marshall.
Backman says the Highway 23 Coalition is one of several lobbying groups around the state. “For example, Highway 14 has a fairly aggressive coalition that’s been trying to extend four lanes between Mankato and Rochester, there’s a Highway 169 coalition, and there’s a coalition for I-94.” — Backman
The Highway 23 Coalition is made up of 14 cities and 10 counties from Interstate 90 in southwestern Minnesota to Interstate 35 in Northeastern Minnesota. Backman spoke at the Sauk Rapids city council meeting last (Monday) night trying to convince the city to join the coalition. Right now the St. Cloud Area Planning Organization is a member. As for the fight for more transportation funding from the state legislature, Backman says the coalition is supportive of new funds but has taken no position on the Governor’s proposed .20 gas tax increase.