ST. PAUL, MINN. – For more than a year Iron Rangers living along the Highway 53 corridor between Virginia and Eveleth have been worried about the fate of their road. The four mile stretch of highway serves as a main artery between the two towns, and residents are concerned about where the road will be rerouted when the mining company begins mining the land. Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) brought up the issue at a recent Transportation Committee hearing at the State Capitol.
“The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) hasn’t made any announcements about where the highway will be moved and that has a lot of people living in these nearby communities pretty worried. I also haven’t seen any allocations in any budgets for this potentially very costly but also mandatory project,” said Sen. Tomassoni.
Sen. Tomassoni asked MnDOT Director of Finance Scott Peterson if the Highway 53 project is being taken care of, noting it is a state obligation based on the agreement the state signed with United Taconite back in 1960 when it built the road on mining lands. Peterson’s answer may help reassure some Iron Rangers that MnDOT is very aware of the state’s obligation to the project.
“As you know, we are still in the project scoping and development phase and we’re not quite sure what the total cost of that project is going to be, but clearly we have to relocate the highway and have the new link operational by 2017; so whatever the cost ends up being we will pay for it either out of our regular existing state road construction appropriations or by bonds,” said Peterson in response to Sen. Tomassoni’s question.
Peterson concluded, “It will obviously be a high priority for us once we get that all figured out.”
The Highway 53 project has also made a bonding request this year for $22.2 million to help acquire land and pre-design storm water relocation, utilities relocation and the creation of trails for bikes, pedestrians and ATV’s. MnDOT will hold its next public hearing on April 3, from 10 to 11 am at the MnDOT Virginia Office.