Nora G. Hertel
PAYNESVILLE — Two extra lanes for safety and commerce. That’s what a recently funded project promises for stretches of Minnesota Highway 23 around Paynesville.
Local businesses and governments joined together and lobbied hard for the upgrade in the last year. Lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton granted bonding money to the project in May.
Here’s what drivers and community members need to know about the project.
What will the project change?
It will upgrade the highway from two lanes to four. The new lanes will be added on seven miles of road from New London to Paynesville and nine miles from Paynesville to Richmond, according to the Highway 23 Coalition website.
Minnesota Highway 23 is four lanes in every other stretch from Willmar to St. Cloud.
“This is an important corridor. We need to finish it. It’s 72 percent done. It’s time to finish it,” said Aaron Backman, secretary/treasurer of the coalition and executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.
How much will it cost?
The recent bonding bill includes $105 million for the project. It should cover the full cost, Backman said.
Those funds will go toward land acquisition needed to expand highway stretches, to mitigate about 25 acres of wetland, and cover design and construction costs, he said. Some preliminary work has already been done.
Is it necessary?
The additional lanes will improve safety and support the economy, Backman said. In the last several years there have been dozens of crashes on that stretch of highway, including some fatalities, he said.
A New London boy died in April due to injuries from a crash on Highway 23, three miles east of Paynesville.
“When you go from four lanes to two lanes, four lanes to two lanes, people make mental errors, they get distracted,” Backman said.
The corridor is important to many businesses that cross greater Minnesota, including industries from wind energy and turkey processing to tourism, he said.
When will it start?
The start date for the Paynesville-area project hasn’t been set yet. It’s one of the three most-recently selected Corridors of Commerce proposals.
There are preliminary steps from land acquisition to design before construction can begin, Backman said.
Proposals chosen on May 1, a month before the Highway 23 one, have starting contract dates estimated from 2020 to 2022.
What’s next for the coalition?
The Highway 23 Coalition formed and gained 91 members in its first 10 months, Backman said. Members achieved their main goal with funding for the stretches near Paynesville, but they’re not done yet.
“There are other needs on Highway 23,” Backman said. “(Benton County leaders) would love to see the four lanes extended near Foley.”