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Wolden wants Hwy. 10 done now

Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden wants U.S. Highway 10 to be expanded to four lanes, run through town and be done in the next 15 years.

Wolden said last week it is one of the biggest priorities he's had as mayor, and he doesn't intend to give up fighting for the project until it's complete.

"I'll be running for my seventh term," Wolden said. "My commitment to this office and this city is to see Highway 10 completed. To see the Highway 10 corridor from Wisconsin to Minnesota whole, and not get e-mails from people who say, 'Wow, I'll never drive through Wadena again because it's like a parking lot.' I suggest it happens now."

The June 17 tornado destroyed some of the businesses that would have been affected by a U.S. Highway 10 expansion. Two of those -- Heartland Tire and Express Central -- decided to move elsewhere in the city.

Wolden said he's spoken with the owners of those businesses, and appreciates that they're continuing the businesses in Wadena.

"[Express Central owners] Harry and Jim Merickel both -- they have a dozen employees that are relying on them," Wolden said. "It may have been easy for them to walk away with a check, but they didn't."

Express Central, a commercial plumbing and heating parts supplier, moved into the Willis Rubber building in the industrial park. Heartland Tire bought the old Domino Ford building on U.S. Highway 10 East.

Those businesses leaving those properties has opened an opportunity, Wolden said.

"In a sad way, it is an opportunity that we have to look at and move forward with," he said. "The rebuilding of the town is obviously first and foremost, and the retention of residents. But the Highway 10 expansion on its current corridor is an opportunity we cannot sit back and let slip away."

And Wadena city officials haven't. When U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was touring Wadena's storm damage last month, she was talking to Congressman Jim Oberstar on her cell phone. Oberstar represents Wadena in the U.S. House of Representatives, and chairs the powerful House Transportation Committee.

Klobuchar handed the phone to Wolden, who said, "Jim, we need to talk Highway 10. ... He came loaded for bear the next Friday."

By that, Wolden means he brought money.

"Congressman Oberstar came in with a $750,000 post-dated check ... for property acquisition specific to the Wadena reconstruction project," Wolden explained.

That money can be used to buy property for the eventual widening of U.S. Highway 10 to four lanes.

"The tornado hit when the ink was still wet in regard to [the Wadena City Council's] resolution in support of the four-lane expansion, and we have not wavered from that," Wolden said.

The mayor said the Highway 10 expansion could be completed in three five-year phases, which would be a much speedier timetable than MnDOT has suggested, but would still allow enough time to work with affected business owners on possible relocation within the city. For instance, a rail spur to serve some of the businesses would be crucial, and could be put into place in that time frame, Wolden said.

Other properties along U.S. Highway 10 are examining all their options after the tornado damage.

"The fairgrounds property -- it's a strong desire of many county officials and certainly the city council that what is now the parking area of the fairgrounds be permanently vacated for retail and commercial type of development," Wolden said.

He added a side road could be used for fairground access.

While the $750,000 is a small fraction of the anticipated $60 million cost of the project, Wolden said he believes other money will flow to the project as it comes together.