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INFORMATION SHEET

Highway 23
North Junction Highway 71 to County Road 31

October 2000

We at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) understand that people want government to act in an environmentally and fiscally responsible manner. The open and involved public process that we have used to develop this project has been geared toward understanding the local concerns so that the best project could be developed to solve your transportation needs.

Throughout this project, Mn/DOT has attempted to balance the safety and mobility needs of the traveling public, the city of Spicer, and the larger community in a socially, economically, and environmentally responsible manner. The project we have put forth, we believe, is the best solution to the problems developing on Highway 23.

PROJECT UPDATE

Since the May 2, 2000 Public Hearing and the closing of the Environmental Assessment (EA) comment period, Mn/DOT has been reviewing and responding to project comments. Mn/DOT would like to take this opportunity to thank the citizens in the New London-Spicer area who participated in the EA/preliminary design process and those who will continue to be involved through the completion of the project.

SAFETY

First and foremost, this project is designed to improve safety! Each and every accident which occurs on the Trunk Highways in our area become very personal to Mn/DOT, driving us to continually question how we can improve the safety of the system. Two-lane highways, such as Highway 23, are the location of the majority of all the traffic fatalities in Minnesota. This past summer, three head-on collisions resulting in three fatalities occurred on Highway 23 between Willmar and St. Cloud. Since January, accidents on this same segment of highway have resulted in 32 injuries and 46 occurrences of property damage. The proposed improvement, a 4-lane divided highway, is a significantly safer design and statistically will reduce the crash rate. We believe, minor improvements to Highway 23 like turn lanes, bypass lanes, and super two sections will not solve the long-term safety problem.

WATER QUALITY

Water Quality has been identified as a major concern for the Highway 23 project, which has led to extensive studies, working closely with the regulatory agencies and the City of Spicer. We are committed to a "no net increase" approach to nutrient loading into the lakes and are confident we can meet that goal. The Highway 23 project will actually correct much of the direct storm discharge into area lakes.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is in the process of forming a local interagency water quality advisory committee consisting of Mn/DOT, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, City of Spicer, Kandiyohi County and local lake associations.

Our proposal is to treat runoff from Highway 23 and a portion of the City of Spicer. The combined City and Highway 23 runoff is presently contributing 26 pounds of phosphorous per year to Green Lake. With the reconstruction of the highway and redirection of the runoff to treatment methods the anticipated contribution of phosphorous would be reduced to 20 pounds per year - a decrease of approximately 23%.

To put this in perspective, modeling of the Green Lake watershed indicates approximately 3700 pounds of phosphorous enters the lake each year from all sources. The contribution from the new highway will continue to be less than 1%.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is committed to design a sound project that will be done in a way to protect and enhance our vital natural resources. If necessary, additional land will be acquired to meet the water quality goals.

BYPASS ALTERNATIVES

Early in the process Mn/DOT considered a variety of routes (alignments) for Highway 23. Three different alignments bypassing west of Spicer along with the existing alignment were examined. The alternative alignments studied did not meet the needs of the communities along Highway 23 and all of them showed greater environmental impacts than constructing on the existing alignment.

If Mn/DOT constructed a bypass, Spicer would no longer be served by the State Highway system; meaning the loss of an asset in the estimation of most residents and a move which many cities would not tolerate. While it is likely that the city would experience a reduction in traffic volumes on the existing roadway, this drop would only be temporary and in ten to twelve years the traffic volumes would be back up again to where they are now and would still continue to increase. An expansion that cannot be done now because of impacts certainly will not be done fifteen years from now after more development has occurred.

The idea of a four-lane in Spicer originated with the city itself. As far back as 1988 the City was requesting of Mn/DOT that Highway 23 be expanded to four lanes. During the project development phase, the city of Spicer hired a consultant who made several recommendations. Many of those recommendations were incorporated into the present design. The important point to recognize is that the consultant hired by the City recommended Highway 23 stay in Spicer and be constructed to four lanes.

Addressing the needs of the communities of Spicer, New London and New London Township lies with reconstructing the existing highway, not building a new highway somewhere else.

TRAFFIC AND GROWTH

The traffic growth driving this project is a result of the rapid growth in population in the area directly served by the existing highway. From 1970 to 1990 the census figures show:

  • 43% population growth in the City of New London
  • 99% population growth in the City of Spicer
  • 124% population growth in New London Township

This growth combined with society’s increased mobility and safety concerns has created the need for improvements to existing Highway 23. A bypass will not adequately address the projected traffic growth of these communities in a safe manner.

PROJECT COSTS

The Highway 23 project is funded using dedicated state and federal revenue from taxes on the sale of motor vehicles, gasoline, and other road user fees. The 2000 Legislative Session provided a one-time allocation of over $500 million of General Fund dollars for transportation needs. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has set aside $13.3 million of these dollars to purchase right of way for this project. This project provides the opportunity for West Central Minnesota to capture its share of transportation funding.

As is common with most transportation investment projects the final cost estimates are higher than the preliminary estimate. These increases are due to the inflation of construction materials and property cost along with the lack of detail that is known when the project is initially proposed. On the Highway 23 project, a significant portion of the increase is due to requests by the public for additional enhancements (water quality, frontage roads, aesthetics, two traffic signals, trail enhancements and wetland mitigation). These have resulted in a better project that is more responsive to the needs of the community and environment.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is continuing to work with the City of Spicer to address ongoing issues. Spicer will be credited with the value of city owned land that will be used for detention ponds. Therefore, the city’s portion will be significantly less than the $128,611 originally estimated.

A benefit cost analysis has been performed for this project. The benefits to the public (accident reduction, fuel savings and reduction in delay) far outweigh the initial construction cost of the project.

Some of the bypass estimates were less costly than construction on the existing alignment, with the lowest cost being $29.8 million. The important point about the bypass argument is that the existing roadway, at a minimum, would still need to be upgraded at an estimated cost of $18.1 million. Assuming we build the lowest cost bypass and reconstruct the existing roadway the total project cost rises to $47.9 million, which is similar to our present project cost estimate of $48.3 million. The estimated cost only represents one element to determine the feasibility of an alignment alternative. Some of the other elements, which would need to be integrated, would be safety, mobility, and harmony with communities and the environment.

NEXT STEPS

  • The environmental documents are being reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). If the FHWA determines that an EIS is not required, we would anticipate that a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) would be issued in mid-November. Upon receipt of a FONSI, Mn/DOT would then proceed into the detail design phase of the project and begin the permitting and right-of-way acquisition process.
  • Public involvement will continue through the completion of the project, such as:
  • The establishment of a local interagency water quality advisory committee, which will meet in mid-December.
  • Detail design aesthetics such as decorative lighting, gateway entrance to the city, landscaping and others
  • Construction staging