The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 3, 2013

County, city doing well on growth plans

Why it matters: Planning roads for future growth to the east of Mankato is a key responsibility for local governments.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Maintaining, building and upgrading roads can be a thankless job.

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on which roads are in the worst shape, which ones should be widened and improved, and which ones should be left alone.

So it’s no surprise that the years of major road and bridge work from the east edge of Mankato to Eagle Lake has drawn a lot of interest and serious debate.

While there can be honest and legitimate disagreement over the details, Blue Earth County and Mankato should be commended for ensuring the road system in that area will meet future needs. It is clear that the land between Mankato and Eagle Lake, along the new four-lane Highway 14, will be a prime area for commercial, industrial and housing developments.

Already, County Road 12 — the airport road — has been realigned with an interchange at Highway 14. Next year, the two major intersections on Highway 22 in Mankato will get roundabouts. County Road 17 between Mankato and Eagle Lake is being upgraded, with several roundabouts being added this year and next.

Roundabouts have been the biggest point of contention with the public and some elected officials. But as more of them appear, most motorists are being won over to their highly increased safety and the benefit of not having to wait at traffic signals.

Some have wondered why several roundabouts are being added along County 17 (Madison Avenue in Mankato), a now fairly rural, local-traffic road. But the road, and its intersections, will see a steady and increasing demand on them as development comes.

The latest focus has been back on County Road 12, with a proposal by Blue Earth County Engineer Al Forsberg to extend the road to the south of County 17, bringing it down to Highway 83, which runs from Mankato’s southeast edge to St. Clair.

The extension project has gotten strong support from Mankato officials.

Forsberg and the city see the extension as a necessary link that will eventually disperse some of the traffic that now mostly uses Highway 22 through Mankato.

But some county commissioners are concerned that the extension will mean too much traffic, including heavy trucks, will use the extension to get onto County Road 41 and then continue on to County Road 90 that bypasses Mankato to the south. Residents along County 41 fear the now lightly used road could become congested and dangerous.

Commissioners concerns are legitimate. They are elected to consider their constituents concerns along with the overall needs of the county and motorists. Balancing those sometimes opposing needs — not to mention the major costs associated with road projects — isn’t easy.

But Forsberg has a reasonable response to concerns about semis using County 41. He notes semis would have to descend and climb out of two river crossings and are unlikely to use the road as a shortcut to County 90.

Despite some disagreements, the important thing is that the county and city have taken a serious approach to planning into the future. Many local governments have failed to do that and have been left with nightmarish traffic problems when growth outstripped transportation systems.