Updated: 09/04/2014 9:03 PM
Created: 09/04/2014 4:03 PM WDIO.com
The crowd of people at the Coffee and Conversation meeting in Virginia said that the public is frustrated by the situation of the highway moving, but no definite answers on where.
Virginia City Councilor Charlie Baribeau asked two pointed questions. He wanted to know why MnDOT didn't start working on this earlier, and why they hadn't set aside more than $60 million for it.
Duane Hill, District Engineer, said that originally they thought the route through the mine pit was going to be feasible. But then he said the mine operator told them it was becoming less and less likely, so they had to start back at scratch. He also said that $60 million was their estimate for that route at the time.
Baribeau said he felt better knowing these answers. And that the city and community area ready to help secure more funding. "The Highway 53 Impact Committee has offered to lobby for more money at the legislature," he said.
MnDOT said that they are finalizing a contract to get a company in to do test bridge foundations in the Rouchleau Pit. "We hope to have them working in September, although the first few weeks will be getting the access road big enough for the large equipment," Pat Huston said. He's the new Project Director.
The test foundations are critical. Huston said they will tell MnDOT what they need in terms of building a potential bridge, how much it could cost, and how long it would take.
The work in the Pit could take through January.
It's now looking more like 2015 when the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is published, which will help MnDOT make the decision on where the route will go.
The agency is vetting three routes. One through the mine pit, and two up around the east side of Virginia and through the Rouchleau Pit.
The deadline to move the road is May, 2017. But it's unlikely that deadline will be met.
United Taconite wants to mine under the current roadway. There's enough ore there to extend the life of the mine for 15 years.
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