We had another chance to meet with MnDOT Com-missioner Margaret Anderson-Kelliher last Friday morning at the Southwest Corridor Trans-portation Coalition meeting in Chaska. The SWCTC is the group that advocates for improvements to Hwy. 212 focused on expanding the busy, narrow, two-lane segments each side of Cologne.
They’re also working to improve Hwy. 5 near the Arbore-tum and west to Waconia. Both roads serve our area and are badly in need of safety improvements. She expressed her department’s support for the additional lanes on Hwy. 212 and the improvements to Hwy. 5. The meeting, which started at 7:30 that morning, also included newly appointed Metropolitan Council Chairperson Nora Slawick.
We got to know her when, as the mayor of Maplewood, she participated in meetings with several of us in the Minnesota Mayors Together group, sharing and discussing issues that are common to all Minnesota cities and their residents. As chair of the Met Council, she plays a key role in deciding where road improvement funding will go in the seven counties that the Met Council serves, including Carver County. And, she started off by noting the irony of being a few minutes late that morning, due to traffic issues between St. Paul and Chaska.
The Met Council has historically been against further lane expansion on highways saying that it enables costly urban sprawl. However, that stance has changed and last month they awarded a $7 million grant toward the completion of the eastern two-lane gap between Chaska/Carver and Cologne, bringing that project to within $5 million of the $46 million needed for the project. With that much-needed support and additional support from Anderson-Kelliher and MNDOT, Carver County will soon begin the process of acquiring right-of-way for expanding this segment and is finalizing plans for construction that will begin in late 2021 or 2022.
The SWCTC is now turning its focus to the west two-lane gap between Cologne and Norwood Young America. Carver County has committed $10 million in local sales tax revenue and MnDOT has set aside $5 million in funds, leaving a $38 million funding shortfall. There will be plenty of work toward securing that money, including applying for federal grants and state funding. Finding that will be a twisted pathway, just like the highway we are trying to im-prove and make safer. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from our meeting was that Hwy. 212 is a perfect example of the critical connection needed between Greater Minnesota communities and the Metro area. It can be a “poster child” project that illustrates the inter-dependence of the rural and urban parts of the state. It’s a project that deserves to be funded.
Last weekend was busy with Red Green’s tongue-in-cheek, down-to-earth comedy at Prairie’s Edge Casino Friday night and the grand opening of Bluenose Gopher Public House on Saturday and Sunday. There was a sell-out crowd for the Red Green show and nice-sized crowds at Bluenose all afternoon and evening on Saturday and again on Sunday. We spent some time among the crowd at Bluenose on Saturday evening and it was fun to see cars parked on Prentice Street and to hear live music wafting out the door.
The long five-year journey to get the place up and running has been a test of patience and stick-to-it-iveness. The co-op model lends itself to decision-making by committee, which can be a challenge sometimes. Still, they persevered and gained the membership and the funding to pull it off. It was fun to hear Scott Marquart from the Southwest Initiative Foundation remark about SWIF’s support, that their business loan to Bluenose was a no-brainer and that the project fit perfectly with their goal for bolstering main streets.
All the recent talk about river flooding took a twist late last week when Hwy. 67, which was closed for high water near the former Sebring Dairy, also would have to close just beyond the Upper Sioux Agency State Park entrance. This was no highwater situation, however. MnDOT is calling it a collapse of the road surface. A Sunday drive to the State Park and a short and pleasant walk down the highway to the affected area was eye-opening. This collapse looked like a scene from an earthquake, with gaping cracks in the road surface and sections of the surface displaced by more than a foot.
The cracks had been evident for some time and worsened this winter. MnDOT placed “Bump” signs, warning drivers of the twisted roadway but the sudden slip of underground soils last week forced them to close the road to traffic. The affected area is between the park’s main entrance and the road to the park’s maintenance shop, up the hill from the Yellow Medicine River campground. That means the route between the Visitor Center and the Campground or shop, normally a half mile, will be around 15 miles using the bridge over the Yellow Medicine River on Highway 274 to Wood Lake and assorted county highways. Fortunately, the State Park remains open.
The Visitor Center area and historic sites, as well as the horse rider campground are accessible from Granite Falls, from the west on Highway 67. The Yellow Medicine River Campground area will be accessible from the east on Hwy. 67. This roadway condition is yet another in a long list of soil/roadbed issues on Hwy. 67 that have caused headaches for MnDOT and the traveling public.
No doubt fixing this will take some time and may stretch well into the spring and summer. MnDOT has had $500,000 programmed for repairing this area in 2020. Fixing this may be more expensive than that. Hopefully emergency funding can be found to begin repairs as soon as the soil condition is suitable.