Iron Range Highway 53 Planning Continues

By KBJR News 1

June 30, 2011 Updated Jun 30, 2011 at 7:14 PM CDT

VIRGINIA, MN (Northland's NewsCenter)---Communities impacted by the re–alignment of Highway 53 came together in Virginia today to continue discussions on where the new four–lane highway will go.

One thing is certain; under contract, Highway 53 has to be moved to make way for United Taconite mining beneath the current roadway.

Three corridors have been the focus for consideration.

A far west alternative would avoid most iron mining conflicts. The highway would go west of Eveleth near county–road seven.

"From a transportation standpoint, it makes no sense," Project Manager, Brian Larson of Minnesota Department of Transportation said. "There is a lot of environmental issues and impacts that would be associated with moving the highway out there to the west. Again, when you look at the different corridors and alternatives that are under consideration, that west corridor doesn't measure up or compare well to the rest."

A middle or mine area corridor would run through the now filled Auburn Pit and the U-TAC mine area.

An east corridor alternative would involve creating a bridge crossing through portions of the Rouchleau Pit, a previously mined area.

MnDOT officials say a number of items are under consideration regarding all the alternatives.

"There are some other environmental issues involving air quality and permitting that need to be addressed before we can just jump in and say that's where the highway is going to be located," Larson said.

Possible relocation of the highway through U–TAC has left surrounding businesses concerned.

"We're concerned about them moving, where we would be located," Jennifer Bonner of Mineview In The Sky said. "Will we have access off the highway for tourists to come here? Last year we had 13,000 people who came through our facility."

Virginia business owners are hopeful the highway relocation will help bring tourists into town.

"I want people to be able to promenade around town, and walk around, its not like it used to be," Jim Cina, owner of Cane Lakes Candy said.

The final project decisions are scheduled to be finished by 2013.

Mn–DOT officials say they're doing everything in their power to speed that process up.

The goal to opening a new highway 53 alignment is scheduled for May of 2017.

A public meeting is set for this summer or early fall to allow citizens to weigh in on the re–location.

Posted to the web: Jennifer Walch