Road costs estimated at $75 million
WINDOM -- Preliminary estimates on the Minnesota 60 expansion project from Bigelow to Worthington are in, and the cost is hovering around $75 million, according to Jim Swanson, district engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
Swanson was among several MnDOT representatives to attend Friday's meeting of the Southwest Minnesota Highway 60 Corporation in Windom. He provided the more than one dozen attendees with updates about the expansion project, progress on the Bigelow bypass and the status of completing the four-lane highway expansion between Windom and St. James.
MnDOT design crews continue to work out specifics for the expansion project extending from the Bigelow bypass to Interstate 90, Swanson said. The entire project is slated to be completed by 2013.
Since MnDOT's public open house May 20 in Worthington, the agency has identified a couple of alterations to the design.
Rebecca Arndt, MnDOT public affairs coordinator, said there had been a consensus from the public that it didn't want noise walls to be constructed along the highway in Worthington.
Also since the meeting, it was learned there is some potential that ground near Worthington Ag Parts, which used to be a city dump, is polluted. With that information, the agency is now looking to make the median narrower in that area to avoid working with contaminated soil.
Another change is routing Minnesota 60 to the south of Shine Bros., rather than having traffic flow around the north side of the steel and iron recycling business. Zachary Tess, with MnDOT, said four different options are being considered.
"This is never an exact science," said Swanson of the design. "We'd like it to be, but it isn't."
The agency continues to consider the possibility for up to six round-abouts to be constructed on Minnesota 60 around Worthington.
"They're less expensive and it keeps everyone moving," Swanson said. "Signals, they sound good, but we've had more accidents since we've put signals in in some places.
"Round-abouts virtually eliminate the T-(bone) accident," he added. "We are required to look at them whenever we look at intersections."
Completing the project
Specific language in the state's transportation bill identified Minnesota 60 for completion, but there was some misunderstanding as to which segments of the road were included. It was clear the Bigelow to Worthington stretch was to be funded, but not so clear that the remaining stretches of two-lane highway between Windom and St. James were included.
"(MnDOT) has asked for clarification," Swanson said, adding that the agency believed the wording included all of the remaining two-lane segments.
As the agency continues to meet with legislators on that issue, Swanson said they met on Tuesday to work out the funding situation for the projects. The entire transportation package approved by the legislature is estimated at $2.6 billion, with bridge work eating up about $2.5 billion, he said.
"Hopefully within the next week or two we'll find out how we're going to handle it," Swanson said of the funding.
While to many it may seem a long time in coming for Minnesota 60's four-lane expansion to get completed, Swanson said it won't be too far beyond the 25-year plan they developed for the highway in 1983.
In that time, however, the costs for doing the expansion project have increased dramatically.
"Fifteen years ago, we probably could have built the thing for $20 million," Swanson said of the Bigelow to Worthington segment. The remaining segments between Windom and St. James are estimated at another $60 million.
"It will be nice when this whole thing gets done and open," Swanson said. "My desire has always been to get this corridor done. Trying to find the money is not an easy trick in this world."
Gravel work and weight testing continues on the Bigelow bypass. Crews anticipate paving to begin around the first week of August, depending on the weather, with the road to open in mid- to late-October. A ribbon cutting celebration will be planned once the highway is ready to open.
Also mentioned at Friday's meeting is a planned overlay on Minnesota 60, between Worthington and Heron Lake, in 2010.