The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 4, 2013

County Board skeptical of new thoroughfare

Commissioners concerned about impact of County Road 12 extension

By Mark Fischenich
The Mankato Free Press

---- — MANKATO — Members of the Blue Earth County Board aren’t at all sure they want to build the next big road to serve Mankato’s eastward expansion, but they’ve agreed to keep the option open by moving ahead with environmental reviews for a new road to fill the gap from where County Road 12 ends at County Road 17 (old Highway 14) and where County Road 41 begins at Highway 83.

With Highway 22 becoming increasingly congested as the city grows east of it, the new county highway would offer a parallel north-south route about a mile east of Highway 22. Blue Earth County Public Works Director Al Forsberg said the $7 million road makes sense, both to relieve the burden on Highway 22 and to provide access to new land for further economic development on Mankato’s east and southeast side.

“With this piece, we’d be set for years,” Forsberg said. “We would have land available.”

Board members agreed that the road would make traffic flow better on the east side, but they questioned whether it should be prioritized over maintenance projects and road improvements in rural parts of Blue Earth County.

“Farmers have some real transportation needs, too,” said Commissioner Will Purvis.

Commissioners are also worried that County Road 12, which has a new interchange with Highway 14 and will serve the planned Walmart distribution center, will become a preferred route for truckers looking to avoid Mankato traffic and stop lights.

If those truckers took the proposed County Road 12 extension only as far as Highway 83 before turning west and reconnecting with Highway 22 on Mankato’s south side, it wouldn’t be a problem. But board members are convinced the truckers would continue south on County Road 41 to County Road 90, which serves as a southern bypass of Mankato and connects with Highway 60/169 west of the city.

“It’s a straight shot and that’s where (trucks) are going to go,” said Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg, who said he’s heard concern from several residents along County Road 41. “... We don’t want to do that to our constituents. We don’t want to put that burden on them.”

Jim Jans isn’t one of the rural residents who has expressed opposition to the County Road 12 project to Stuehrenberg and Commissioner Kip Bruender. But Jans said he understands his neighbors’ concerns about increased traffic on the relatively quiet County Road 41.

“I can’t image anyone being too thrilled about it being a thoroughfare,” said Jans, a retired pipefitter who has lived just off of County 41 for 38 years.

And he has no doubt that truckers would continue south on 41 to County Road 90, rather than turning back to Highway 22 via Highway 83, if the new County Road 12 extension is built.

“If they find an easy route, they’re going to use it,” Jans said.

Already, if there’s road work or an accident on Highway 22, drivers wind their way through rural roads between Mankato and Eagle Lake, ending up on County Road 41, according to Jans.

“Anytime there’s a hiccup on 22, no matter where they put the detour, people know 41 will get them back around,” he said.

Forsberg agreed that 41 is an older road and isn’t currently up to the task of handling major truck traffic. But he noted that two transportation studies identified the County Road 12 expansion as necessary and said that east-side growth is going to boost traffic on all roads — the only question is whether the road system is prepared for it.

Ultimately, the board agreed to move forward with environmental assessments on three potential alignments for filling the 1.5-mile gap between County Road 12’s current endpoint and Highway 83. That way, the project will be ready to move forward if federal or state funds become available and if the board decides the project is necessary.

“The problem is, once the ball gets rolling it’s hard to stop,” said Bruender of Eagle Lake.

So the board warned Forsberg that authorization to do the environmental work doesn’t mean that he isn’t facing five skeptical commissioners when it comes to near-term approval for construction.

“Rest assured,” Forsberg said. “I know I can’t do it without you.”