ST. PAUL, MINN. – Four years after being notified that a four-mile section of Highway 53 will have to be moved, the communities of Virginia, Eveleth, Mountain Iron and Gilbert are giving a collective sigh of relief. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) announced this week it had chosen the E-2 route which calls for a 1,100 foot bridge across the Rouchleau Pit, just east of Virginia. Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) has long advocated for this route and has made regular contact over the years with MnDOT officials over the slow-moving project. He says he is happy to finally see a decision made just two years before the project needs to be completed.
“The unknowns in this project were really stressful for the residents in these communities because there was a route option that would have completely gone around these towns. I think the E-2 decision and the new bridge is a smart financial decision that also keeps the livelihoods of these communities in mind. I’m looking forward to working with MnDOT and the Governor through the next phases of this project,” said Sen. Tomassoni.
The new Highway 53 bridge has been estimated to cost the state $220 million. According to agreements with the mining companies the new route needs to be completed by 2017.
This portion of Highway 53 had to be moved because it was built on land owned by local mining companies. A deal struck in 1960 between the companies and the state agreed the state would pay to move the road if the companies decided to mine the underlying and surrounding land. In 2010 the companies notified the state about their mining intentions. Plans to reroute the highway have been pending ever since.
During the 2013 Legislative Session, Tomassoni authored a bill that ensures Highway 53 will remain open until the new section is complete and open to traffic. This spring, Tomassoni chief authored along with Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia), another piece of legislation that provides $19.5 million to help acquire land and pre-design storm water relocation, utilities relocation and the reconnection of the Mesabi Trail for bikes, pedestrians, ATV’s and snowmobiles along the new re-routed highway.
“It’s nice to see MnDOT push this project forward with this final design as businesses, jobs and recreation are being addressed for many years into the future,” added Tomassoni.
The public is invited to attend and offer input at several Coffee and Conversation project update meetings hosted by MnDOT. The next meeting time and location is listed below:
• Thursday, December 4, 2014
10 to 11 a.m.
MnDOT Virginia Office, 101 Hoover Road, Virginia