In St. Louis County between Eveleth and Virginia. The proposed project is to abandon Hwy 53 in the area of the United Taconite mine expansion and reconstruct in a new location.
The affected area is about one mile.
Biweekly "Coffee & Conversation" project update meetings scheduled
People interested in the Hwy 53 Relocation Project now have a new way to get the latest information at biweekly "Coffee & Conversation" meetings. The first meeting was held Tuesday, May 14 at the MnDOT Headquarters Office in Virginia. The meetings are designed to provide brief updates on the Hwy 53 Relocation Project and to allow time for questions and answers about the project.
Coffee & Conversation Highlights
About 40 people attended the first Coffee & Conversation meeting on May 14. Roberta Dwyer, Hwy 53 Relocation project manager provided the latest project information with a PowerPoint presentation. She also explained key aspects of the National Environmental Policy Act process. Additional information about scoping and the highway project development process is available online.
The next Coffee & Conversation meeting will be Tuesday, May 28 from
10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at MnDOT Headquarters, 101 Hoover Road, in Virginia.
Hwy 53 Relocation Project open house
Many display boards and layouts were set up for people to see, which provided details about the project, the process and showing the alternative routes. MnDOT engineers and consulting staff were available to answer questions. Attendees were encouraged to share their opinions about the project and submit written comments.
- Scoping and Environmental Impact Statement process.
- Project timelines.
- Project budget. Costs of the layout alternatives are unknown at this time.
A handout with project background information and information about future steps was given to open house attendees.
Scoping process reopened
MnDOT has reopened the scoping process on the Hwy 53 Relocation Project to add to the range of alternatives being considered in the project Environmental Impact Statement.
An EIS is being prepared for this project to evaluate alternatives and their impacts on people and the environment. The EIS process—which includes opportunities for public input—identifies the positive and negative effects of project alternatives, to help determine the best solution.
Analysis of four project alternatives for the EIS has been proceeding since initial scoping was completed in fall 2012. However, in February 2013, the “M-1” alternative and “Existing US 53” alternatives, that proposed going through the United Taconite operated by Cliffs Natural Resources, were determined to have numerous serious issues.
During ongoing, in-depth study of the easterly alternative, MnDOT identified issues that have increasingly raised concerns about the project budget. Studying additional alternatives will ensure that the final project balances environmental, social and economic issues, along with application of sound engineering principles and cost.
The EIS scoping document will be reopened to reconsider a westerly alignment on Hwy 37 and County Road 7. Options to be considered on all possible routes include a “Super Two” design. A "Super Two" roadway has wider lanes and shoulders, better sight lines and includes safer opportunities for passing than a standard two-lane highway design.
The additional time needed for rescoping and EIS analysis could add a year or more to the project schedule. MnDOT is looking at ways to lessen the overall impacts to the project timeline.
For immediate concerns or questions please call Roberta Dwyer, MnDOT Hwy 53 Relocation project engineer at 218-725-2781.
Project layout alternatives available online
Project layout alternatives are posted on the "Alternatives & External Studies" tab.
- Currently, there are no impacts to traffic.
- Maintain Hwy 53 connectivity between Virginia and Eveleth. Hwy 53 is a major transportation corridor in the region and serves as a critical link between the cities of Virginia and Eveleth.
- Provide access to the natural resources needed by United Taconite. Moving the highway to a new location will allow United Taconite access to large quantities of iron ore deposits that will help provide for the continued operation of the company which is critical not only to the economic vitality of the region, but to the entire state of Minnesota.
- Unknown funding sources/lack of funding
- Community impacts and social acceptance of new route
- Impact of new route on mining operations
- Possibility that the highway will need to be relocated again in the future
- Short, aggressive time line for relocating the highway
- Volatility of mining industry
- Hwy 53 between Duluth and International Falls is a major transportation corridor serving northeastern Minnesota.
- Since 1960, portions of Hwy 53 in St. Louis County were located on land owned by mining companies. The highway is located on these lands through easement rights.
- The current mining companies, United Taconite and RGGS Land and Minerals, now need access to the land the highway is located on to continue their mining operations.
- In accordance with the 1960 agreement provisions, United Taconite and RGGS Land and Minerals have given MnDOT notice that they will be terminating the easement rights for the portion of Hwy 53 that is located between approximately Hwy 135 and 2nd Avenue in Virginia.
- The 1960 agreement required the highway to be moved within three years of receiving the termination notice but United Taconite and RGGS Land and Minerals have stated they would allow up to seven years for the move to occur.
- MnDOT is required to relocate the highway outside of the planned mining area by spring 2017 so that United Taconite can begin mining under the current roadway.