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Public weighs in on MnDOT design

WORTHINGTON -- Local residents studied maps, looked at design alternatives and speculated on what grasses would look best along the new Minnesota 60 four-lane highway during an open house Tuesday evening in Worthington.

With Phase I of the project well underway southwest of town, the next deadline for MnDOT is to select the final designs for a screen wall in the Morningside neighborhood and retaining wall under the railroad bridge. Both take into consideration some of the design elements of Worthington's downtown, featuring colored brick, incorporating diamond patterns and, in the case of the railroad bridge, the use of black railings.

Patti Strohmayer, a landscape designer with MnDOT's office of technical support, said several meetings with city leaders, designers and the Union Pacific railroad led to the final versions being presented to the public on Tuesday.

"This is mainly so we can get some input -- find out the likes and dislikes," Strohmayer said of the meeting.

Construction on the railroad bridge will begin next spring, with completion slated by the end of the 2011 construction season.

The project will include the replacement of the existing storm sewer drain to allow for water to drain faster in hopes of preventing flooding in the under the bridge during heavy rains.

Yet to be decided in the MnDOT plan is the pedestrian crossing in the Morningside neighborhood. There will be an opening in the screen wall at Morningside Drive for people to cross the highway, but the city is still in limbo about the creation of a pedestrian tunnel under the highway.

Rolin Sinn, district design engineer, said if the city would opt for the tunnel, they would be responsible for 100 percent of the costs. At this point, such a project could reach up to $700,000.

"It's going to take some community resolve," Sinn said of the decision, adding that MnDOT will need an answer from the city within the next month.

Mayor Alan Oberloh said the city continues to work with MnDOT on the pedestrian tunnel option.

"We've got to move pedestrians across that road somehow," added Alderman Lyle Ten Haken. He said the pedestrians were there long before the highway expansion, and thought MnDOT should share in the responsibility of getting them across the road safely.

Though not opposed to putting a traffic light at the crossing, Ten Haken said none of their three options are without flaws. There are safety concerns with having people cross the highway even with a stop light, a pedestrian bridge is an option he doesn't think people will use, and a tunnel underneath the highway could be subject to flooding and other safety concerns.

As they continue to weigh the options, Oberloh said he did like the designs for the screen and the retaining wall.

"The design will give us a contemporary look -- something more than a slab of concrete," he said. "It has architectural flavor."

Residents of the Morningside neighborhood have been involved with the design concept for the screen wall, which is a shorter, slimmer version of a noise wall.

Sinn said based on the Environmental Impact Study, the noise generated by the expanded highway will eventually exceed the acceptable level in a residential neighborhood. However, residents weren't fond of the 20-foot wall concept. The screen wall that will be constructed will feature a 4-foot berm, with a 10-foot fence constructed on top of it. Trees, shrubs and grasses will also be incorporated into the landscape.

Bids for the projects will be let in March, with construction to begin next spring, Sinn added.

Bob Williams, MnDOT project engineer for Phase 1, said the highway expansion from north of Bigelow to Paul Avenue is on track and work is expected to continue through early December.

Next week, crews will begin work on the new culverts and start removing the "muck" that isn't a suitable base for building the highway. Once that is complete, Williams said they will return to the project in April.

The planned detour, which will take motorists on Nobles County 4 and Nobles County 5, will be implemented as soon as the spring weight restrictions are lifted off the county road system -- likely in early to mid-May. The detour will remain in place until late 2011, Williams added.

"We still hope (the new highway) will be open to traffic next fall," he said.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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