Board OKs highway relocation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 11, 2001

It’s a done deal .

Wednesday, April 11, 2001

It’s a done deal … almost.

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The Mower County Board of Commissioners has given its unanimous approval to the relocation of a portion of County State Aid Highway No. 3.

The realignment of CSAH No. 3 is needed by the city of Austin to expand the Austin Municipal Airport runway.

With the county’s endorsement of a proposed realignment plan, the city now can proceed with another grant-writing effort to help fund the multimillion-dollar project.

Once again, brothers David and Kevin Morse, plus Mr. and Mrs. Larry Gerlach were in the front row to question the proposed realignment. All are farmer-landowners in the area to be impacted by the airport expansion project.

Jon W. Erichson, the city’s director of public works, returned with the latest revision for the county commissioners’ review.

The new plan calls for a portion of CSAH No. 3 to be moved from its present intersection with U.S. Highway 218 immediately south of two residences on the south side of the roadway south to the end of 21st Street SE, a low-maintenance Austin Township gravel road, and then east to where it will connect with the existing CSAH No. 3 at the driveway entrance to the Greg Bird residence east of the current County 58 intersection.

According to Erichson, the new alignment answers most of the concerns raised about interfering with farm field property lines, drainage and traffic safety.

"It will follow the old abandoned railroad right-of-way where there is a 69-kilovolt transmission line easement already," Erichson said. "It also avoids potential wetland impact in the area and reduces the amount of land the city will have to acquire for this project."

David Hillier, Third District county commissioner and chairman of the board, said the new compromise alignment "will stay close to the edge of the farm fields and, I think, this is what the landowners wanted. They didn’t want their fields cut up."

Len Miller, Fourth District county commissioner, and an opponent of the city’s airport expansion project from the beginning, said traffic safety and transportation needs were "more important issues" than cutting up farm fields.

While a tit-for-tat debate ensued between Miller and other commissioners over the most important issue, Erichson interrupted to say, "The original concept for the realignment had a lot of difficult issues, but this concept comes as close as any to resolving them."

According to Erichson, the anticipated right-of-way width for the new realignment will be 130 feet, or enough to accommodate any future plans for a recreation trail crossing the county along the abandoned railroad property.

"I just think this new design is a better compromise for everyone," Hillier said.

The other favored option two weeks ago would have caused the portion of CSAH No. 3 to align with the Bird family’s residential driveway entrance on the east and CSAH No. 45 (the Echo Lanes roadway) on the west.

However, traffic safety concerns along the curved portion of U.S. Highway 218 South quickly removed the option from serious consideration.

The Morse brothers and the Gerlachs did not register any opposition to the compromise, but all had several questions about the details of a minor adjustment to the north-south stretch of County No. 58 along the current east airport border and the new intersections with the to-be-realigned portion of CSAH No. 3

Erichson said he would return to the county board with the engineers’ final design of the realignment.

"The alignment being proposed today has the least impact of any we have heard," Hillier said, "When the realignment was discussed at the Mower County Townships Association’s meeting at Elkton in March, there was no objection from township officials."

Cummings made the motion to approve Erichson’s proposed realignment and Ray Tucker, Second District, seconded it.

The measure was approved by a 5-0 vote of the county board.