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Wheels come off Highway 10 project

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Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Construction to expand U.S. Highway 10 from two lanes to four lanes in Wadena won't begin until 2027, according to a new project time line presented by Minnesota Department of Transportation officials.

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The Wadena City Council expressed frustration with the delay at the March 11 council meeting. The original delivery date of this project was 2016 or 2017. Council members said they wanted a preferred alternative announced as soon as possible for economic development purposes. Highway 10 options include a four-lane expansion through town, three bypass routes that arc to the north and a no-build option. The council has announced it supports the through-town route.

MnDOT's new time line suggests the preferred alternative won't be announced until the completion of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement in 2009 or 2010.

The delay in the schedule is based upon MnDOT having no funding for expansion projects and a traffic forecast summary showing that expansion based on projection wouldn't be needed until 2027.

Lee Berget, P.E., Transportation District Engineer for MnDOT District 4, told the Wadena City Council at the meeting that the transportation bill passed by the state "puts us into a new era." The bill includes funding for preserving existing infrastructure but not for expansion projects, he said. The Wadena Highway 10 project is considered expansion.

The transportation bill generated about $1.7 billion in bonding -- $600 million is for bridges and $1.1 billion is for preserving infrastructure over 10 years, Berget said. While the funding is a step in the right direction, he said, it still isn't enough to fund everything.

The Wadena Highway 10 expansion project had been managed to take advantage of large, one-time funding, when it became available, he said.

"The transportation bill puts us into a new era and we're going to have to adjust to it," Berget said. "It's unlikely that large amounts of one-time money will be granted with the passage of the transportation bill until some time, and likely until 2018. There is no available funding, I foresee, for expansion projects, until after 2018, assuming the goal is met for preserving what exists."

Lori Vanderhider, Highway 10 Wadena project manager for MnDOT, presented the new schedule for Highway 10 expansion through Wadena. She proposed extending the Draft EIS to 2009 or 2010 and then doing the final EIS in approximately 2012. Then, she said, detail design would be in 2017 and purchasing of right-of-way would be in approximately 2022. Construction would be about 2027.

The reason to extend the Draft EIS is because the EIS has a shelf life of five years, Vanderhider said. The preferred alternative wouldn't be announced until after the Draft EIS was completed.

"But I want to stress that we will continue to monitor the area growth so that if the traffic does increase at a faster rate, the project could begin sooner," she said.

Councilman Pete Phillips wondered why the traffic flow projections that showed no need for expansion until 2027 weren't done before $1.2 million in funding was spent on other studies.

Vanderhider explained that the Highway 10 Wadena project was programmed as a preventive project so it was recognized that the expansion wasn't needed as an existing congestion problem.

Councilwoman Jeanette Baymler questioned how the Staples need for a four-lane expansion was different than Wadena's need. Vanderhider said that the crash rates were significantly higher in Staples.

Phillips expressed frustration with the delay.

"There's been a lot of time, a lot of community input, a lot of obviously useless energy by Wadena people into this project," he said. "For 2027? It's very disappointing."

Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden said he will seek to have this project included in a federal transportation bill and have construction begin before 2027. He had spoken with people from Congressman Jim Oberstar's office and said Oberstar has a desire to see something completed here.

Wadena is the last stretch of Highway 10 that isn't four lanes.

"I've talked with mayors and council members from up and down Highway 10," Wolden said. "I'm always getting positive responses when we talk about the completion of Highway 10. It has more of an inter-regional type of impact than we realize."

Wolden is concerned that the Highway 10 project won't become part of a federal transportation bill if a preferred alternative isn't announced.

He asked if MnDOT would be willing to go along with Wadena aggressively seeking other funding.

Berget said that federal earmarks usually require an 80/20 funding match, which MnDOT still wouldn't have until at least 2018. MnDOT would be supportive of federal funding but worried about having money to match, he said.

Cost estimates were presented for the different proposed routes based on 2007 dollars. The through-town expansion was estimated to be between $36 and $52 million. Each of the bypasses were estimated to cost between $48 and $71 million.

Wadena's planning and zoning director, Byron Larson, said that having a preferred alternative was probably more important than having the road expanded right now.

"This lack of decision is really hurting Wadena, more than the lack of the highway, I think," Larson said. "We need the decision. When it's going to happen and where it's going to happen so we can do our planning."

Wolden reiterated in a letter to MnDOT after the council meeting that he intends to see the project happen sooner.

"A project that was first proposed in 1950 should not have to wait 77 years to come to fruition," he said.

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