MnDOT shares plans for Hwy. 23 passing lanes

MARSHALL – It’s not a full expansion of Minnesota Highway 23, but it’s still a big step in the right direction, area transportation advocates said Wednesday. This week, representatives of the Minnesota Department of Transportation presented plans to build several passing lanes on Highway 23, in locations between Willmar and Interstate 90. One of the planned projects will be in Lyon County between Russell and Florence.

Construction is planned for 2016.

“This is exciting,” said David Sturrock, chairman of the Marshall Area Transportation Group. Developing the Highway 23 corridor has been one of the group’s major goals for years. In 2013, the transportation group had applied for a Corridors of Commerce Grant for the planned passing lanes.

“We asked for passing lanes, to be located where they made sense, between Willmar and I-90,” Sturrock said. While the project is still in the early phases, he said it’s a positive sign to see a timeline attached to it.

MnDOT held an informational open house event on the projects in Marshall Wednesday afternoon. A similar open house was held in Pipestone on Tuesday, and a third is planned at the Raymond Community Center in Raymond today.

The passing lanes will be located in three spots between Willmar and Jasper, said MnDOT Project Manager Susann Karnowski. In those locations, Highway 23 will be widened about 8-10 feet to include a third lane for passing. Each passing lane will be about 1.1 miles long, not including tapered areas at the ends, said MnDOT Traffic Engineer Ryan Barney.

The passing lanes are being planned running northbound and southbound from Raymond; northbound and southbound between Russell and Florence; and northbound and southbound between Pipestone and Jasper.

“Obviously, the dream would be a four-lane (highway),” Karnowski said, but a project of that magnitude isn’t currently in MnDOT’s budget. However, Karnowski said building the passing lanes would help improve traffic flow and the movement of freight and commerce along Highway 23.

The passing lanes are being funded by the Corridors of Commerce program, which focuses on improving major economic corridors in Minnesota. Corridors of Commerce has provided a total of $300 million in bonds for projects around the state, Karnowski said.

Karnowski said MnDOT has also identified three more possible sites for passing lanes on Highway 23, if funding is available. Those “Tier 2” projects would be located on Highway 23 running northbound and southbound between Pipestone and Holland; running northbound and southbound from Hanley Falls; and running northbound from Clara City.

Karnowski said the passing lane project is currently in the preliminary design phase. She said designs will likely be finished in late 2014, with construction taking place in 2016. The design process will include an environmental review, and a public hearing that will likely be held this fall or winter, Karnowski said.

More information on the projects, including information presented at the open house events, will be available online at www.dot.state.mn.us/d8/projects/hwy23passinglanes.