Posted at: 03/22/2013 2:03 PM
Updated at: 03/22/2013 3:34 PM
The Minnesota Department of Transportation says it will consider the possibility of reducing U.S. Highway 53 to one lane in each direction on part of the Iron Range as it faces a 2017 deadline to reroute the highway.
Parts of the existing roadway travel over property owned by Cliffs Natural Resources, which plans to mine ore located under the current road bed. MnDOT had identified two possible new routes for Highway 53, but one would have traveled through the Auburn Mine Pit and Cliffs said last month it would not grant an easement for the route due to safety and other concerns.
The decision left only a longer easterly route up for consideration. However, MnDOT said Friday there were concerns about the cost of the easterly route.
"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, in a press release. "Studying additional alternatives will ensure that the final project balances environmental, social and economic issues, along with application of sound engineering principles and cost."
Besides the easterly route, MnDOT said it has reopened the scoping process to also consider a westerly route that would follow Highway 37 and County Road 7. MnDOT said a "Super Two" design would be considered on all possible routes. A "Super Two" highway includes one lane in each direction with wider lanes and shoulders and better sight lines than a standard two-lane highway.
"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 Environmental Impact Study analysis related to their business operation impacts. MnDOT will continue to work closely with them, the Project Advisory Committee and members of the community."
More information is posted at mndot.gov/d1/projects/hwy53relocation/index.html.