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Work progresses on 60 - in Iowa

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WORTHINGTON -- While snowmobile enthusiasts may not appreciate the brown grass and mild temperatures many Midwesterners have enjoyed of late, the weather has been ideal for those working in road construction -- particularly on the Highway 60 expansion project in Iowa.

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Mike Kruger, Cherokee-based resident construction engineer with the Iowa Department of Transportation, said recent weather has more than made up for rain delays encountered earlier this spring.

"Overall, we had a pretty wet spring, at least on the Sibley bypass trying to get the grading process started," said Kruger. "Once the weather cleared up, we made pretty good progress and we're basically on schedule right now."

Kruger, who oversees the Highway 60 road construction project from the Minnesota border to south of Sheldon, said the Ashton bypass was the first to be completed along the stretch of roadway. That bypass opened this spring, while the Sheldon bypass was opened to four-lane traffic just a few weeks ago. The third and final bypass is around Sibley, a project slated to open in late summer or early fall 2007.

"We're finishing up the grading this fall, and some of the structures such as the bridges are completed or we're working on completing yet this fall," Kruger said. "A few bridges will be finished up in the spring, and we'll have a few touch-up projects. The bulk of the grading is essentially completed at this time."

Kruger said as long as the weather continues to cooperate, workers are putting as much time into the road construction project as possible.

"We've been fortunate to get enough fall and are progressing maybe a little bit longer than we have in other years," he added.

Before the snow comes to stay for a while, Kruger said crews are continuing to work on connecting the Sheldon bypass to the existing roadways both north and south of the community. Once the connections are completed, crews will work their way north toward Sibley with main-line paving and shoulder work. Kruger said the four-lane could be opened by mid- to late-December, depending on the weather.

Once the Sibley project -- the bypass and four-lane highway that will stretch north to about three-fourths of a mile south of Bigelow -- is complete by fall 2007, Kruger said all of Iowa's portion of Highway 60 will be completed.

What about Minnesota?

Minnesota began the process of expanding Highway 60 to four-lane years before Iowa did, and yet the state won't finish the job for likely 20 years or more after Iowa.

Blame it on a lack of money or the legislature's failure to take action and you'd be right on both counts, according to Peter Harff, project manager in the District 7 office of the Minnesota Department of Transportation office in Mankato.

"Iowa funded the road," he said. "If you, as an electorate, don't vote for transportation funding, you don't get roads -- that's the reality."

But Minnesotans did vote for transportation money earlier this month in a constitutional amendment that will dedicate 100 percent of motor vehicle sales tax (MVST) to roads and transit by 2011. Whether some of that money will be appropriated for Highway 60, however, remains to be seen.

"MVST passed, but the legislature didn't approve more money for bonding," Harff said. "We do know more money will go to transportation, but we don't know what projects will be funded."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said he'd like to see the Highway 60 project moved up in the timeline of road construction projects, but Harff said it will require legislators to pass a bonding bill.

"If that happens, they are looking at a possible 2010 start date, but it would be very difficult to achieve that because of the sheer ... amount of work that has to be done in designing the plan and acquisition of rights of way," Harff said. "That takes a lot of time."

Harff said MnDOT stopped dedicating staff and resources to the Highway 60 project after the legislature failed to pass a bonding bill because those resources were needed on other projects.

"As it is, we're half a year or more behind where we were at that time," he added.

Harff said nothing has changed with MnDOT's plans for Highway 60 in the last couple of years. The department still plans to begin work on the Bigelow bypass next summer -- a project he estimates will take two years.

"(Work) from Bigelow to Worthington continues to be a long ways out," he said, adding that the road won't be built up to four lanes before 2015, unless special funding becomes available.

If funds do become available, Harff said the Bigelow to Worthington four-lane project would start in 2011, and that's a big "if."

Still, he said the Worthington-Bigelow section does take precedence over the Windom-St. James four-lane construction project.

"I wouldn't even venture a guess when the rest would be completed," said Harff, adding that from Windom to St. James, MnDOT has completed the four-lane bypasses around Butterfield and Mountain Lake. "(The project) is beyond 2023, which is the next planning timeline.

"After that, who knows how we will fund transportation," he continued. "We do have it on the list as a piece of work that has to be done, but there are other projects on the list that are a higher priority, that have more crashes or a higher traffic count, that we don't know how we're going to fund yet."

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Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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