If state highway engineers are correct, Hwy. 169 could be closed or severely limited to travel in the next two to five years.
The assessment was presented by a delegation before Minnesota Department of Transportation commissioner Richard Braun on Aug. 22 in St. Paul at a meeting which lasted about 45 minutes.
Rep. Steve Wenzel, Sherman Holbert, President of the Highway 169 Safety and Development Association, Inc., and resort owner Buster Stott asked Braun and governor Al Quie to seriously consider reversing their decision which delayed the construction of a four-lane highway from Milaca to two miles south of the Rum River near Onamia.
“The condition of portions of U.S. Highway 169 are so bad that resurfacing and widening will be absolutely imperative on an emergency basis, according to DOT’s own evaluations. This could cause actual closing of this road or totally unacceptable traffic problems, thereby creating devastating economic problems for the entire area which depends on this road,” Holbert said.
The Highway 169 project is currently on the “potential for deferral” list which means the project would be completed only if “near normal revenue” through gas tax receipts is received by MNDOT in 1979.
“Some of the projects accorded priority simply do not warrant that preference as a benefit to the personal, tourist or industrial welfare of the area or people concerned. Some actually are planned to encourage bypassing Minnesota for Canada and to benefit a yet-to-be-developed, remote national park,” Holbert said.
“We are requesting a re-evaluation giving greater consideration to these factors,” he said.
Holbert presented six resolutions supporting reversal by Governor Quie and MNDOT concerning Hwy. 169, resolutions representing six public and governmental associations including civic associations from Onamia, Garrison and other communities served by Hwy. 169.
“There is real moral responsibility to those of us who have so long been deceived by MNDOT and successive administrations,” Holbert said.
Wenzel reminded Braun that there were at least 21 site restriction spots between Milaca and Onamia on Hwy. 169.
Wenzel said, “I was told by MNDOT officials that the situation is so bad that impacted delay for just one year will make it necessary to put in an overlay to hold the road together and that if 169 is delayed three or more years, then major reconstruction will be needed, including tearing up and replacing whole sections of the road.”
Wenzel reported the situation regarding accidents and fatalities on 169. In the report, he said that the Department of Transportation only had accident statistics for 1976, 1977 and 1978, and according to MNDOT, there had been two fatalities on that highway during those years. Wenzel reported there had been at least three fatalities in 1979 alone. Wenzel also said that MNDOT officials at the regional office in Brainerd reported there had been 52 injuries during this three-year period and 150 claims of property damage filed in accident reports for the three-year period. Wenzel stated that the accident rate for Hwy. 169 is 2.11 per one million vehicle miles of travel, which is high by state standards.
Braun then told Wenzel that the figures he had quoted from the district office were at variance with the figures the computer in the State Highway Department in St. Paul reported to Braun’s office.
Braun then assured the delegation the he would have these figures verified and looked into, and he would make a report.
The Highway 1669 project ranked very high as a critically needed project by MNDOT, just missing by two or three projects from the projects cut off.