The Minnesota Department of Transportation will reopen the scoping process on the Hwy 53 Relocation project between Eveleth and Virginia, to add to the range of alternatives being considered in the project Environmental Impact Statement.
According to a news release issued Friday:
An EIS is being prepared for this project to evaluate alternatives and their impacts on people and the environment. The EIS process—which includes opportunities for public input—identifies the positive and negative effects of project alternatives, to help determine the best solution.
Analysis of four project alternatives for the EIS has been proceeding since initial scoping was completed last fall. However, in February 2013, the “M-1” alternative and “Existing US 53” alternatives, that proposed going through the United Taconite operated by Cliffs Natural Resources, were determined to have numerous serious issues. In addition, cost estimates for the easterly alternative (E-2) have caused MnDOT to reopen scoping and add another alternative for analysis in the EIS.
“During ongoing, in-depth study of the easterly alternative, MnDOT has identified issues that have increasingly raised concerns about the project budget," said Duane Hill, MnDOT District 1 engineer. “Studying additional alternatives will ensure that the final project balances environmental, social and economic issues, along with application of sound engineering principles and cost.”
The EIS scoping document will be reopened to reconsider a westerly alignment on Hwy 37 and County Road 7. Options to be considered on all possible routes include a “Super Two” design. A "Super Two" roadway has wider lanes and shoulders, better sight lines and includes safer opportunities for passing than a standard two-lane highway design.
“I’m sure there will be people who are disappointed with this news, but the additional options will help us make an informed decision,” said Hill. “We will do everything we can to deliver the best project we can on budget and on schedule. Cliffs Mining has been an excellent partner on this challenging project. We appreciate their contribution to EIS analysis related to their business operation impacts. MnDOT will continue to work closely with them, the Project Advisory Committee and members of the community.”
The additional time needed for rescoping and EIS analysis could add a year or more to the project schedule. MnDOT is already looking at ways to lessen the overall impacts to the project timeline.