VIRGINIA, MN (Northland's NewsCenter)---Plans to move Highway 53 on the Iron Range are becoming clearer as the Minnesota Department of Transportation prepares to publish its scoping document.
About 50 area residents turned out for a meeting Thursday afternoon where concerns were discussed along with ideas for alternatives for the new Highway.
Two mining companies, United Taconite and RGGS Land and Minerals are looking to get at an attractive ore deposit beneath a one mile strip of the roadway near Virginia on Hwy 53.
"The value of the ore that's underneath the existing highway from a profit stand point is $400-600 million," Mn/DOT Project Manager, Brian Larson said.
Under the current draft scoping document, all western routes have been eliminated due to transportation times and its impact on the mines.
"It pretty much separates Virginia from Eveleth and Gilbert," Virginia Resident, Louis Knoll said. "Nobody wants to go around and drive all the way through Mt. Iron to get into Virginia."
A middle route through the Auburn Pit and an eastern alternative that goes up around the Rouchleau Pit will move forward for consideration.
"About $60-70 million of construction costs for the M1 alternative and about $75-85 million for the E2 alternative," Consulting Project Manager, Doug Abere said.
The committee will continue to look at environmental concerns for the remaining routes as it moves forward.
A 30-day comment period will begin after a scoping document is published in March.
The public hearing process is expected to be underway by early April.
"There wasn't any real substantial concern about where we were coming down on the alternatives, so people were generally in agreement with the direction we are headed," Abere said.
Construction is expected to start in June of 2015 and be completed by spring of 2017.