Cautious optimism for highway interchanges

When Lyon County Commissioner Charlie Sanow says he wants the public to speak, people listen.

The public began to speak about the proposed highway interchanges on Highway 23 at both Highway 59 and Highway 19 at the county board meeting on Tuesday after Sanow had voted “no” at the previous county board meeting so that the public could be involved in the process.

Every voice at the meeting was in favor of the proposed Corridors of Commerce interchanges.

Citizens who might oppose the project will have ample opportunity to voice their objections in the future. But they weren’t present at Tuesday’s meeting, which took place during a morning snow storm.

County Administrator Loren Stomberg read an email from Toby Knopp which expressed support for the interchange project.

Cal Brink, representing the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce, appeared again before the commissioners along with Tara Onken and both advanced the cause.

“Public meetings are planned,” Brink affirmed.

He also accented the importance of the letter of support from the commissioners to put into a grant application to the Corridors of Commerce program for the two projects, which had passed in the previous meeting over Sanow’s objection of haste.

When Commissioner Rick Anderson questioned the necessity of the letter of support with contradictory information from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Brink retreated a little.

“A letter of support can’t hurt,” he said. Sanow emphasized that he was not opposed to the grant. He was only opposed to pushing forward without giving the public a chance to provide input. He also spoke in favor of slowing down the traffic through the Highway 23 corridor.

“We’ve had the discussion that MnDOT says we can’t slow that corridor down,” Sanow said.

“I don’t believe we can’t slow that corridor down. I think it would be a good idea to slow it down.”

The greater question of proposed highway interchanges dominated the discussion. Onken read an email from Brian Knochenmus which supported the interchange.

Bill Mulso, who is Vice President for Advancement at Southwest Minnesota State University, told the commissioners that safety of their students is very important.

“We have 2,000 students on our campus, plus the high school,” he said.

He mentioned the frequent use of the existing tunnel as an example to stimulate more innovative progress. Bill Swope, who was an accident victim at the intersection of Highways 23 and 19 in 2014, spoke in favor the interchanges. He lent his credibility as a former elementary school principal to the project.

“An overpass at 59 and 23 would be helpful,” he said. “There have been 79 accidents along the corridor since 2014. I’m on the school board and we’re always concerned about safety for our kids,” he said.

Swope added, “When the traffic light turns yellow, trucks don’t hit the brakes. They step on it. That’s what happened in my accident.”

Acting Chairman Gary Crowley replied to Swope in an emotional voice, saying, “That was quite a testimony. If it saves one life, it was well worth it.” Finally, County Engineer Aaron VanMoer verified that the Corridors of Commerce grant would provide 100 percent funding.

“There is no local match unless other associated local projects arise” from the project.

He also clarified that the state grant for the overpass will be either approved or denied, but not morphed into another solution such as a roundabout. VanMoer reported that there are five or six projects statewide to split up $400 million.

Lyon County is in the running for two of them, an exchange at the intersection of Highways 23 and 59 and another exchange at the intersection of Highways 23 and 19.

Sanow expressed appreciation for VanMoer’s work and his patience. He also offered to make it a unanimous recommendation in the letter of support, although no formal motion was made.

Cal Brink

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