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Highway 23 Coalition hold membership meeting I Granite Falls

Clara City Herald / Sam Peterson on October 23, 2019

The Highway 23 Coalition met for the annual membership meeting at Prairie's Edge Casino on Oct. 18. The coalition invited all of the members to attend the meeting to provide a brief overview on the overall plan for the future in the Highway 23 Coalition.

Clara City Mayor Gary Nelson was registered to attend the meeting, but with the nice weather on Oct. 18, he needed to be harvesting in the fields. Instead, Gene Wenstrom attended the meeting representing the city of Clara City, there were no representatives from Maynard or Raymond. Other governments in the coalition include Benton County, Chippewa County, Kandiyohi County, Lyon County, Mille Lacs County, Pipestone County, Renville County, Rock County, Sterns County, Yellow Medicine County, Cold Spring, Foley, Granite Falls, Marshall, New London, Paynesville, Pipestone, Raymond, Richmond, Rockville, Spicer, Waite Park, Willmar, New London Township, Paynesville Township and Roseville Township.

Highway 23 is the only main highway to travel from the southwest corner to the northeast corners of the state, and according to Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Highway 23 is one of the busiest highways with freight and semi traffic. The main goal is for the Highway 23 Coalition is to create a four-lane highway from Interstate-90 to Interstate-35.

While the main goal for the Coalition is to make Highway 23 a four-lane highway, they will not be able to accomplish this right away. Instead, the coalition has marked four main priority projects to be taken started in 2019 based on the needs and wants of the members of the coalition. 

These projects include creating a four-lane extension on a 4.5 mile stretch between Green Valley and Marshall for $27 million; creation an overpass over County Road 55 and 5 just southwest of Willmar for $7.8 million; conducting a round-about and four-lane feasibility study in Foley for $2 million; and finally an intersection safety study done at the intersection of Highway 7 and Highway 23in Clara City for $100,000.

The intersection safety study in Clara City has been on the Highway 23 Coalition's radar for a while now and with the completion of previous projects, the study has made its way up the priority list.

There is concern with this intersection because there has been  higher rate of collisions and accidents. When presenting the problem to the Highway 23 Coalition, the Clara City City Council was not 100 percent sure what they would like to see at the intersection. They had discussed building a roundabout or interchange at the intersection, but nobody was sure what would be the best option. 

The study will help the city see the benefits to each plan as well as the negatives. One concern with a roundabout at the intersection is it could make it difficult for large trucks and trailers to maneuver the tight turns. For example, large trailers with wind turbine parts can often be seen traveling through Clara City on Highway 23 and these vehicles would not be able to easily make the turn. 

There is also a limited amount of space around the intersection of Highway 23 and Highway 7. This creates a problem because both a roundabout and an interchange would require extra room. The results from the intersection safety study will provide the city of Clara City with valuable information to decide their next step to make the Highway 23 and Highway 7 intersection safer for motorists. 

Majority leader of the Minnesota Senate Paul Gazelka was present at the Highway 23 Coalition membership meeting. According to Gazelka, there has been a recent push in the legislature to get something done about Highway 23. "I am passionate in saying Highway 23 is a priority, we need the roads and bridges to be taken care of," Gazelka said.

According to Gazelka, everything in legislature is about relationship, in order to get things accomplished, you have to have good working relationships with the people you are working with. Gazelka, Anderson Kelliher and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz have all been working hard together to allocate more of the budget towards transportation, specifically rural transportation.

According to Anderson Kelliher, rural Minnesota has twice the accidents per traffic count than the metro area. There are also more safety concerns on rural roads with vehicles and large machinery having to share the road. Anderson Kelliher is from rural Blue Earth County and knows the difficulty of getting things done in a rural area.

"I will continue to tell the story about what could happen on rural Minnesota roads if nothing is done," Anderson Kelliher said. 

For city officials in Clara City, it is welcome news an intersection safety study will be done this year. The Clara City City Council will take the information gathered in the study to help them make a more informed decision on the future of the Highway 23 and Highway 7 intersection in Clara City.