Independent / Jody Isaackson
GRANITE FALLS — The Yellow Medicine County Board unanimously voted to become a member of the Highway 23 Coalition.
Aaron Backman, director of Kandiyohi County Economic Development Commission, appeared before the YMC Board at its Tuesday meeting to explain the benefits of working together to lobby for a bigger piece of the legislative pie for infrastructure in order to continue turning Minnesota Highway 23 into a totally four-lane highway.
YMC Board Chair Gary Johnson said Yellow Medicine County had been burned in the past.
“Twenty-nine million dollars of our project funds were put into the area by Paynesville,” Johnson said. “We didn’t get anything done here that year because of that. I was against using our dollars for Paynesville at first, but now that it’s done, I do see the need to fill in the gaps.”
“Regardless of which district got it, we have to make our case for the improvements, as well,” Backman said.
“As one of two major corridors in the state, we want our voice to be heard,” Commissioner John Berends said.
“I support the coalition,” Commissioner Ron Antony said. “I’m all for four-lane highways. There are four lanes from St. Cloud to Willmar and from Marshall to I-94. We got hopped over. We’re always the player. It’s getting tiring to hear about it and it’s built all around us, but not here. It would help our business(es).”
“Highway 23 is the largest portal in the state connecting Duluth, through St. Cloud and WIllmar, down to Marshall and on to I-94 (Interstate 94), close to Sioux Falls (South Dakota),” Backman said.
Backman talked about how Granite Falls was the nexus to the entire corridor because transport trucks and other vehicles have to stop at the intersection of Minnesota Highway 23 and U.S. Highway 212. The trucks turn here, he said. YMC should take advantage of that.
“You can make a case,” Backman said. “As a member of the coalition, you can make your case. You have a chance to make a difference. Use your voice.”
As a coalition member, YMC would have a seat at the table. It would be proactively planning the future of the corridor and have an impact on the quality and safety of southwest Minnesota.
“I’m tired of Minnesota not getting enough attention for infrastructure in Greater Minnesota,” Antony said. “We’re in a position to be the squeaky wheel. I believe this corridor needs attention.”
The road improvements wouldn’t be cheap, Backman said. He said it cost about $60 million for 8 miles of four-lane construction by Paynesville in Stearns County. The reason it was so expensive was there were wetlands to consider and property owners to pay.
Backman also talked about the other counties and cities up line who are joining the Highway 23 Coalition. So far, he has spoken to seven cities, most of which have become members: Cold Spring, New London, Paynesville, Richmond, Spicer and Rockford, and maybe Granite Falls.
“I gave the presentation to the Granite Falls City Council who will be deciding in a couple of days,” he said. “Last week, I spoke with Chippewa County Board, who agreed to join.”
He mentioned the dues for members, saying that if Yellow Medicine County would come in with a supportive or advocate membership, that it would get prominent billing in any news publication the coalition sends out. The dues for supportive level for Yellow Medicine County were $1,000, Backman said. The majority of the coalition’s budget is from dues.
Bachman said he was working his way down Highway 23 and would be speaking to the cities of Cottonwood and Marshall, as well.
Twenty-six businesses and 11 government units are already members.
The frequency of meetings, Backman said, were a large meeting twice a year and monthly board meetings.
“I view this as a long- term effort,” Backman said.
The plan is to eventually close all the gaps along the Highway 23 corridor, turning two-lane sections into four-lanes, he said.