Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

Hwy 53 Relocation

Between Eveleth and Virginia

Orange barrels on a highway

Frequently asked questions

Why is the Hwy 53 realignment being planned?

MnDOT does not own the property the highway is located on; it is there by highway easement rights granted by US Steel in 1960. On May 5, 2010, Cliffs Natural Resources and RGGS (land owner), the successors to US Steel, provided notice to MnDOT that Hwy 53 easement rights across the United Taconite Mine would be terminated.

What is the current project cost?

Current build option cost estimates range from $240 million to $460 million. As engineering solutions to the issues are developed, the estimate and schedule will be revised.

Where will the money come from?

Funding is being sought from state and federal sources, including grants and special programs.

What is the new timeline?

The schedule will be updated as the engineering evolves and issues are resolved.

How will the project schedule be expedited?

The schedule is being expedited by doing several activities concurrently.
Concurrent activities:

  • Design
  • Environmental Impact Statement
  • Easements negotiations
  • Design factors to include rapid construction techniques
  • Construction Manager/General Contractor construction
  • Accelerated construction methods

Will the road be closed?

MnDOT is working with the landowner and mine operator on an expedited schedule to avoid a road closure.

What is the current status of the project and what are next steps?

The Scoping Decision Document was published in September 2012 and the Amended Scoping Decision Document was published in August 2013. The next step is a comprehensive study of all five alternatives in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). There are five alternatives being carried forward into the DEIS.

Public feedback, including a public hearing, ultimately results in a decision about the preferred alternative to be carried forward to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Analysis of all alternatives will include preliminary design development and evaluation, including assessment of potential social, economic and environmental impacts and proposed mitigation.

How will community input be provided?

MnDOT is providing a variety of opportunities for community input:

  • Public open houses and public hearings will be held at key milestones during the project to allow public input as part of MnDOT’s decision-making process.
  • A Project Advisory Committee (PAC) has been formed with a variety of community and agency leaders to represent the public interest. The PAC will meet over the course of the project.
  • MnDOT also plans for small group meetings to discuss specific topics (for example, business or recreational trail impact meetings with stakeholder representatives).
  • Pat Huston is MnDOT’s project director. He may be contacted directly to provide your input or questions. Pat can be reached at (218) 725-2707 or Patrick.Huston@state.mn.us

Is moving the highway more expensive than buying the land under the current Hwy 53 alignment?

Based on preliminary studies conducted by MnDOT using publicly available data about mine operations and local geology, MnDOT currently believes the economic value of the iron ore bodies underneath Hwy 53 is substantially greater than the cost of building a new Hwy 53 alignment. 

Why are alternatives being studied? 

The federal NEPA process requires that all build and no-build alternatives be addressed in the EIS. All alternatives have environmental, social and economic advantages and disadvantages that are being studied as part of the EIS process.

Does iron ore resources exist underneath the Midway Area? 

The Midway Area does not sit above iron ore resources; no relocations of Midway Area residential or business properties are expected as a result of the highway relocation.

Why did MnDOT consider a West Corridor Alternative?

As part of the early investigation of project alternatives, the west corridor offered the opportunity to locate Hwy 53 where no iron ore bodies exist. This would eliminate the potential for needing to relocate Hwy 53 again in the future due to mining operations. Further study of this alternative has shown the costs and the impacts to the region to be very high. The westerly alternative was eliminated from further study in the Amended Scoping Decision Document in August 2013.

Will the Mesabi Trail be impacted and what is the future of the trail system?

The majority of the trail system is on lands owned by RGGS. It is likely that the trail will require relocation due to future mining. No decisions on the relocation of the trail can be made until the selection of a new route for Hwy 53 is complete.

What will happen to the city of Virginia’s water supply if the E1A or E-2 Route is selected?

The city’s water supply will be unaffected by the relocation of Hwy 53. If the E-2 Route is selected, the pit will be bridged and all runoff collected. No water or debris from the roadway would be allowed to enter the pit.

Will my property be acquired for the relocation of Hwy 53?

The current alternatives are conceptual to allow for early comparison of potential impacts during the scoping phase of this project. MnDOT is not able to determine whether properties will be acquired with this level of information. As part of the EIS process, the most promising alternatives will be developed with more engineering detail to help identify more precisely the potential impacts, including potential property acquisitions.

How can I stay informed of project progress?

This website will continue to provide project information updates. When visiting this project website, look for the “Email updates for this project” link on the homepage to register for MnDOT email updates. Once registered, MnDOT will send emails to you when new project information or news is available. 

Economic Impact Study

What were the objectives of the Economic Impact Study?

The study collected and analyzed data to articulate the range of economic impacts associated with each alternative under consideration including; E-1A, E-2, M-1 and two No-Build conditions. The study outcomes will be incorporated into the Highway 53 Relocation Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

Why did MnDOT decide to undertake this study?

As noted above, the Highway 53 Relocation Project is proceeding through the DEIS process, which includes an assessment of the potential social, economic, and environmental effects of a proposed action. Given the differences between the alternatives under consideration, MnDOT determined that a detailed economic analysis would be prudent to assist in facilitating the decision-making process. 

What type of information was collected and analyzed?

The study assessed economic impacts on the local and regional economy such as effects of each alternative on employment, retail sales, tourism, increased travel costs, emergency response and business impacts (including direct and indirect effects on existing and future mining operations). 

Who conducted the Economic Impact Study?

MnDOT led the Economic Impact Study and hired Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH) and the McComb Group Ltd. to gather the technical data and complete the economic impact analysis for the range of alternatives under consideration. The Laurentian Chamber of Commerce was also an active partner in gathering and disseminating information as well as coordinating meetings with specific business groups. 

What was the time line for completing the Economic Impact Study?

The economic study time line extended from June 2013 to October 2013. Several individual business meetings, Coffee & Conversation update meetings, and open houses were held over the course of the study process.