It’s understandable if some Blue Earth County residents think discussions about major highway expansions seem nonstop.
The Victory Drive North expansion through Mankato, roundabouts being built at a brisk pace, the County Road 90 southern bypass, an interchange at County Road 12 (the Airport Road) at Highway 14 and other projects have dominated the agenda for the county, city and the Minnesota Department of Transportation in recent years.
Now comes a consultant’s report citing the need for a major new north-south route on the east side of Mankato.
While any big projects are costly and invariably bring changes and disruption to some, the infrastructure work is a positive sign of steady growth in the area. More importantly, the fact local governments are paying so much attention to highway work shows they are staying ahead of problems rather than reacting to congestion and growing pains.
The latest project under consideration by the county is a two-mile extension of the Airport Road, making a four-lane south to Highway 83, which goes to St. Clair to the east and to Highway 22 to the west.
The project’s price tag — $8.5 million if done soon — has given pause to some county commissioners and there are suggestions that a southern extension of the road stop short of Highway 83 and instead connect to Hoffman Road at Highway 22.
It’s understandable that commissioners want to look at all alternatives and keep an eye on public funds. Fortunately, the County Board is moving ahead with the environmental assessments needed for the project with an eye toward acquiring the right-of-way that would be needed for whatever the eventual expansion looks like.
Still, the consultant makes a strong case that a four-lane south to Highway 83 would be most beneficial in removing growing congestion on the nearby Highway 22 route on the edge of Mankato. Such a project they say would quickly attract 14,000 to 15,000 vehicles daily.
It’s clear that growth — and traffic — will continue east of Mankato toward Eagle Lake. That growth will likely explode as the new Wal-Mart distribution center construction kicks off this year. More industrial, commercial and housing construction will fill in and current arteries, such as Highway 22 will be strained.
The kind of steady growth the greater Mankato area has seen is good for all taxpayers in the county, good for the economy and will add amenities that make the area attractive.
The county, city and MnDOT should be commended for planning to ensure that growth is orderly and that infrastructure such as highways are in place ahead of the growth, rather than trying to play a much more costly game of catch-up later.