West Central Tribune / Carolyn Lange
WILLMAR — Converting state Highway 23 from a two-lane road to four lanes between the towns of Paynesville and Richmond would not have the potential for “significant environmental impacts,” according to a report issued this week by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
MnDOT reached the conclusion Monday after reviewing information in a state State Environmental Assessment Worksheet and taking public comments.
The “negative declaration order” means an additional layer of review known as an Environmental Impact Statement that can be costly and time-consuming is not required.
That’s good news for the proposed 8.7-mile project, which is part of a two-pronged “fill-the-gap” campaign to get a four-lane highway from Willmar to Interstate 94.
Last year MnDOT issued a similar determination for the 7.4-mile gap between New London and Paynesville.
There’s no money for either segment but having environmental studies and design plans completed will help inch the project to the top if funding becomes available.
Locally, a Highway 23 Coalition made up of about 40 regional businesses and public entities have revitalized efforts to make the Highway 23 project visible to lawmakers who could decide which highways to fund with the Corridors of Commerce program.
Donna Boonstra, vice-chair of the Highway 23 Coalition, said the latest announcement from MnDOT about the Paynesville to Richmond project is a positive step.
“This is good news for the Highway 23 Coalition and its organized effort to secure Corridors of Commerce funding for the two unfinished sections between Willmar and St. Cloud,” Boonstra said.
“This is also good news for rural Minnesota as being recognized as a rural corridor that requires much-needed improvements.”
With a goal of having a connected four-lane for the entire Highway 23 corridor from Marshall to St. Cloud, the Highway 23 Coalition is raising funds through supporting business and government entity partners to promote the project.
“Having these environmental reviews completed puts our two projects ahead of many around the state that are competing for the dollars provided by the Corridors of Commerce program,” said Highway 23 Coalition Chairman Bob Mathiason, from Heritage Bank in Willmar.
The coalition is also in the process of soliciting letters of support from agencies and resolutions of support from counties and municipalities to submit next month to the Corridors of Commerce program.
Coalition members say having a four-lane corridor is vital to the economic viability of the region.
As part of the environmental review, MnDOT assessed the potential environmental impacts of the project and examined the purpose and need for the proposed improvements to Highway 23, along with the anticipated social, economic and environmental effects if the project is constructed.
The analysis of the environmental review can be found on MnDOT’s District 8 website.