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4-lane expansion will bring dramatic change to Wadena’s corridor

There is still time to comment on this project through an online survey through September 10, 2022. Find that option at www.mndot.gov/d3/projects/wadena/h10/

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Interested parties gathered around a map showing a planned four-lane expansion through Wadena on Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
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WADENA — “It would have been easier just to bypass all this,” was one participant's observation while attending MnDOT’s informal meet and greet on Thursday, Aug. 25.

It was one of many observations concerning the four-lane expansion of 6 miles of Hwy 10 on either side of Wadena. But it was one that spoke heavily of the many hurdles in the long road ahead to bringing this project to completion. Construction is expected in 2025, but a lot of conversations must be had and decisions must be made to reach that destination.

The reason for the expansion for years (around 50 years) has been to increase traffic flow and safety.

“I think everyone is in favor of having four lanes, it’s just getting through the tough part of getting property access, and safety,” according to Derek Schmidt, the consultant project manager working with consulting firm WSB.

Schmidt said the highway didn’t have the traffic volume necessary to warrant the four lanes until more recent years. So other projects have taken priority.

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Money has always been an issue as this corridor involves creeks, wetlands and property acquisition. It’s not as easy as laying another two lanes next to the existing ones.

The chief issue on the minds of those attending seemed to be the impact of the expansion on those who owned property along the current two-lane road.

“To be effective for the existing businesses, the project has to have adequate access to the businesses. And if we remove left hand turn lanes, we remove the ability for people to take lefts into our properties, that’s going to impact traffic,” according to Tom Paper, a business owner (Wadena Hide and Fur) along Hwy 10 in the affected area.

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Maps gave a view of the entire project area as it may appear with four lanes of traffic.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

The expansion will not be going south onto railroad property, as MnDOT officials made it clear that working with the railroad has not been successful in the past.

“You can't get in their right of way … it just doesn’t happen,” according to Schmidt.

Rather the project will be taking up road frontage from private property owners to the north. That could include what some estimate as around 140 addresses over the 6 miles.

“That’s a big process,” Schmidt said. “It takes them two years. From the time they first contact the property owner to the time we have property in hand.”

Some of these acquisitions would be small, while others could see the purchase of their entire property.

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“It’s going to change everybody’s access,” Schmidt shared. “Some may be relatively the same, but it’s four lanes instead of two.”

A lower level workout room in the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center was the location for the gathering of those interested in the project. While maps were spread across two tables nearly the width of the room, people crowded in around to look at the proposed draft and speak with MnDOT and other involved parties. There was a very good turnout of concerned citizens. Members of the Wadena city council and staff from the city and county stopped by to ask questions. Based on many comments and Post-It notes left on two huge maps of the project area, there are certainly different opinions about what should happen with this highway. The map emphasized that it was a draft and subject to change. The comments and survey opportunity was one way to bring some of those adjustments.

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Reduced Conflict Intersections are the latest idea for intersections that would certainly be a change from what many are used to, with the hope that it creates a safer outcome. They are said to reduce fatal and serious crashes by 70%.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Wadena Utility Superintendent David Evans said that traffic flow will be improved greatly with four lanes especially on a busy Friday and weekend, which often includes backed up traffic on the two lane road.

“I think it’s going to really improve safety,” Evans said. From a utility perspective, Evans feels they’ve taken the right steps to prepare for this project.

WSB has gone through and marked utilities as MnDOT does not allow utilities to remain in the MnDOT right of way. That’s a bit of a problem as Wadena just installed a water line for the new hospital. That new line lies directly where the new roadway is expected to be installed. How to proceed with that is one of the decisions to be made.

Wetlands have also been marked along the route. WSB has been out looking for native wetland plants. They submit that to a panel to determine the true wetland limits. The amount of wetlands along the corridor is one of the factors that adds a tremendous expense to the project.

“You’ll have to mitigate for it, so you’ll have to purchase the wetland you take, you buy it from a wetland bank,” Schmidt explained.

Wadena Mayor George Deiss said he’s hearing concerns of semi-truck trailers being able to get where they need to go for the existing businesses. This area includes the existing business Polman Transfer which has a steady flow of semis coming and going from their lot.

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“The four lanes on each end, traffic is going to flow better, but you’ve still got to be able to access businesses,” Deiss said. He looks forward to seeing if the comments and suggestions were heard when they see another draft of the plan.

He also noted that if increasing safety is a concern here, that the speed limit needs to be reduced prior to the turnoff at the new hospital. It’s set at 60 miles per hour in this area at this time. This was a topic of considerable debate concerning where the urban portion should start and where the rural portion should start. This not only affects the speed of traffic, but it changes the look of the corridor from a concrete median, to a large grass ditch dividing the highway. The larger the expanse between lanes equates to more property that would be acquired from property owners.

MnDOT’s project manager Eric Schiller spoke to one concern about semis or large vehicles being able to navigate some of these left turns across the highway. He shared that those turn lanes are designed for semis to be able to make those turns and head back in the other direction.

Schiller has been working with MnDOT since about 2013. He said what sets this project apart from others is that it’s been talked about so long. While many of their projects are reclamations or rehabilitation, this is a brand new corridor for the community.

“People are looking to have a plan that is followed through on,” Schiller said. “There has been some uncertainty around it.”

Schiller said he roamed all over the maps with people during the event as everyone has a different attachment to the project. As project manager he meets weekly with others leading this project forward. People should be seeing him and others in the areas of the construction area. He’ll be involved through the completion of the final plan. He said they’ll be taking in all the notes and surveys and start consuming them right away on their way to a final plan.

He expects that MnDOT will release a 3-D visualization of the project so people can figuratively walk through the project area in 3-D to really grasp what it will look like.

How we got here with Hwy 10
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.

What about that right-hand lane by Holiday?

While Hwy 10 took center stage, Hwy 71 is also set to be a focus of construction in 2025. It will include resurfacing, new sidewalks and a walking path north of town. One topic that came up a number of times was the recent work completed at the intersection of Hwy 10 and 71, which does not include a right hand turn to the west at Holiday. This has brought some consternation by drivers considering there is a large chunk of concrete sidewalk where a turn lane could be. MnDOT officials expressed that the concern would be looked at but added that to create a turn lane that semis could use would eat up a significant portion of the gas station’s lot, and there was potential concern of underground fuel tanks too close to the added lane.

There is still time to comment on this project through an online survey through September 10, 2022. Find that option at www.mndot.gov/d3/projects/wadena/h10/

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at mjohnson@agweek.com or 218-640-2312.
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