West Central Tribune / Carolyn Lange on April 12, 2019 at 6:03 a.m.
WILLMAR — Construction of a four-lane corridor on state Highway 23 between New London and Paynesville will start a year earlier than planned.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced Thursday that construction on this seven-mile segment of road, known as the “Highway 23 south gap” will begin in 2023 and will take two construction seasons to complete. This south gap had originally been set to begin in 2024. Construction of the nine-mile Highway 23 north gap between Paynesville and Richmond will begin in 2022, and will also take two years to complete.
The new timeline means the projects will overlap and be completed in three years rather than four and create an unbroken stretch of four-lane road between Willmar and Interstate 94. The unexpected announcement is good news for communities along the corridor that have been lobbying for the four-lane road, said Aaron Backman, a key member of the Highway 23 Coalition and executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission. “This is great news,” Backman said. “We are very pleased to hear that MnDOT has decided to accelerate by one year the Highway 23 south gap. That is wonderful news.” Backman said getting two four-lane gaps completed in three years rather than four will mean less disruption to travelers on Highway 23 and will result in significant cost savings because the condensed timeline will reduce inflationary cost increases.
“The coalition is very pleased,” Backman said. The Highway 23 Coalition is a public-private partnership, with more than 100 members, that promotes infrastructure improvements on Highway 23. The advanced timeline for the project is possible because of recent legislation that gives MnDOT the opportunity to secure funding for the project earlier than originally approved, according to a news release. Last May the Minnesota Legislature passed a bonding bill which included $105 million in funding for the Highway 23 gaps projects.
Compressing four years of construction into three years means MnDOT staff will accelerate tasks like designing the roadway, acquiring right of way to expand the road and securing utility and environmental permits. The MnDOT District 8 office in Willmar will be the lead on both projects.