Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, October 19, 1998

State juggles highway list, CR 1 project may be delayed

By Russell Victorian

The County Road 1 (formerly Highway 261) turnback project from Winsted to Highway 212 is on hold for now because the state decided to shuffle the priority list for turnback projects.

The state has not said which projects will get funded next year, said Rick Kjonaas, county highway engineer.

It sounds like segment two of the turnback project - from Highway 7 through Lester Prairie to County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 22 - may get set back one year to 2000, Kjonaas said.

But that same shuffle may move the third segment to Highway 212 up a year, from 2002 to 2001, he said. That means the whole project could possibly be done by 2002.

Kjonaas said phase three of the project has been designed and an important railroad agreement has been reached, but the rights-of-way have not been purchased yet.

Segment two of the project is designed, the rights-of-way purchased and the four-mile plan is in St. Paul waiting for funds, he said.

"If they (the state) told me to go tomorrow, I could," Kjonaas said.

Due to the possible shuffling of segment two of the project, Kjonaas said he has started talking to the county board of commissioners about doing some of the work with county dollars, which could be reimbursed later by the state.

"The county board asked if I could fund the entire project, but I don't think we can," he said. But there may be enough funding to do some of the areas of special importance.

One could let segment two of the project over two years, with the important work to be done in 1999 and the project finished in 2000, but "I would need some sort of letter of commitment from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) for payment or reimbursement," Kjonaas said. "Then we could go ahead."

Special work on segment two would include turn lanes on Highway 7, and focus on areas near Lester Prairie where the city has planned some infrastructure work along with the County Road 1 project, he said.

Kjonaas said he has to meet with the city of Lester Prairie to see where they are at.

Until the county gets MnDOT's commitment, the county can only explore its options, he said.

There also are other issues created by setting the segment two project start date back, Kjonaas said.

The rights-of-way purchased for segment two of the project will expire at the end of 1999, he said. "It would be nice to get the grading done before the easements expire.

"I don't think there would be a problem extending those easements, but some of the landowners' projects also may be affected by pushing the project date back."

Currently, the county is evaluating its options. There are some funds to start special projects on segment two, but the county will not get started until it gets a written commitment from the state, Kjonaas said.

He said the good news is he anticipates the whole project will be built by 2002.

If scheduling works out like expected and the county gets approval on funding from the state, the county may start purchasing rights-of-way for segment three to Highway 212 as early as next spring, Kjonaas said.

The Legislature has been making a strong effort to solve the state's turnback problems. He said the state has added funds to the turnback account, and more funds are expected from the federal government.

Basically, phase one of the project - from Winsted to Highway 7 - is finished, except some minor cleanup that the contractors have left, Kjonaas said.

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