As politicians praise the approval of funds for a four-lane expansion of Hwy 10 on either side of Wadena, MnDOT's Central District is digging into the project that's been talked about for decades.
Rep. John Poston, R-Lake Shore, announced last week that $30 million was included in an omnibus transportation bill to widen the final two lane stretch of U.S. Highway 10 on either side of Wadena into four lanes. That plan passed through the Minnesota House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support, according to Poston. Before the weekend, the Senate also passed it and Gov. Tim Walz signed off on the construction June 26, which was included in a "community requests" list separate from line items within the bill.
MnDOT's District 3 Planning Director Steve Voss, said the details of the bill were still being reviewed by MnDOT officials on Tuesday, June 29, however, the funding approval was a major step in making the project a reality. Voss added that funding approved in the last special session helps jumpstart the project. The project was included in a $25 million fund for trunk highway project development appropriation. This specifically named Hwy 10 in Wadena to include environmental analysis, predesign, design and engineering so that it is shovel ready.
"That's separate but noteworthy because we are in the process of hiring a consultant to lead that effort," Voss said. "We expect that process to begin early 2022."
The project would be led by MnDOT and, if all funding is secured and project development work is completed, the earliest anticipated start of construction is fiscal year 2025 or later, according to a letter from MnDOT Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
"The community has been waiting a long time for this," Voss said. He shared that the work completed last year on U.S. Highway 10 in the city of Wadena lends itself well to this four-lane project. Voss said it was still early in discussions to express exactly how the recent work would be adjusted for this expansion, but it has been expressed previously that it would require little more than restriping as the highway was already widened. Consultants will be reviewing the recent work and planned work to see how it can come together best. To be clear, the reconstruction and widening done within the roughly four-block portion of Wadena's business district would be largely unchanged in this future project, rather it's the remaining two-lane highway on either side of town that would see the conversion.
The four-lane expansion project is one that numerous law makers and officials in the region have been working towards for over 40 years, according to Poston.
“Today is a great day for folks in our area that depend on Highway 10 to get to work, deliver goods and services, or are passing through our community on their way to the cabin,” Poston said Wednesday, June 23 in a press release. “This is a project that I have been working hard to secure funding for and I am grateful that we were able to get the job done. I look forward to construction starting sometime soon.”
Wadena County Commissioners Bill Stearns and Sheldon Monson have been diligently pushing the project forward for the last five years. Also helping the project was Sen. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka R-Nisswa, who has been promoting this project for 12 years.
“I give a lot of credit to commissioners, they’ve been the squeaky wheel working very hard to get this done,” Poston said.
Monson, the commission chairman, said Thursday, June 24, he was happy to see this project move ahead as he saw it as a major safety improvement for the region.
“When people out of the area are coming in, they are used to the four lane, they are not paying attention and I do recall at least one or more accidents where there were head on collisions,” Monson said. “The biggest reason is the safety issue. It’s the only part of Highway 10 in the state that has this two-lane to four-lane configuration.”
Poston agreed, saying it was a corridor of commerce, an important route for agriculture and a stretch of road commonly used by tourists. He added that this was the first budget bill of the session to achieve largely bipartisan support.
Poston felt good about the bill as they were able to “throw out” tax increases such as gas tax, registration tax, vehicle sales tax and metro transit tax.
“All of those were thrown overboard at the last minute so we could get this thing done,” Poston said.
The $30 million fund should cover all the cost of the construction as that was the latest estimated cost, according to Poston. This includes several miles of two-lane road on either side of Wadena, between Bluffton to the west and Verndale to the east. A large bite of the cost has already been taken care of when the road within Wadena was reconstructed between 2018-2020 by MnDOT.
That reconstructed portion included a widening of the road, which allowed for turn lanes and medians. That improvement was noticeable to Poston on a recent trip to Wadena.
“For the first time in really a long time I got up to the main intersection and I didn’t have a semi turning where I had to back up. So it is flowing better. This will make it just that much better,” Poston said.