For many area residents, it's a safety concern. But Minnesota Highway 68 is also vital to transportation and business in the region. That's why an area group is collecting signatures in support of a study of traffic and safety issues on Highway 68.
"Public input is important. We need to hear from people in Lyon County, Lincoln County and Yellow Medicine County," said Rebecca Day, a member of the Highway 68 Corridor Coalition. Members of the coalition include representatives from city and county governments and economic development organizations along Minnesota Highway 68. The group's overall goal, Day said, is to build on the opportunities for transportation and economic development that the highway brings to southwest Minnesota.
A petition, which was distributed in the area and online last week, is one of the coalition's efforts.
The petition asks Minnesota legislators to support a safety study on Highway 68 from Marshall to the South Dakota border. Day said it's also a message, calling for more attention to be given to the highway as an important corridor for both transportation and industry.
"It's a growth corridor," Day said, and a farm-to-market route for agriculture. While a resurfacing project between Marshall and Canby this year was a big improvement, she said, it shouldn't be the end of development in the Highway 68 corridor.
Day said the Highway 68 Coalition formed after talks about highway improvements and safety in Minneota during the past two years. In a discussion with the Minneota City Council and concerned community members in 2011, Minnesota Department of Transportation planner Patrick Weidemann suggested a game plan for improving Highway 68: form an area coalition, conduct a study of the highway corridor, and recommend future improvements.
A coalition was formed this spring, "And we've been working ever since," Day said.
The group's petition asks for the study and reconstruction of intersections that meet the highway, and for Highway 68 to be designated a commercial and commuter corridor and given safety upgrades.
The concerns in the petition are ones that area residents have voiced in the past. Highway 68's travel lanes and shoulders are narrow, with steep side slopes. All those factors, plus a high traffic volume, increase the risk when passenger vehicles meet trucks, trailers or farm equipment, Day said. In addition, the highway runs at a sharp angle to many county roads. The petition singles out certain intersections, like the ones with Lyon County Road 33 and County Road 76 outside Marshall, as needing safety improvements.
Day said paper petitions are available for area residents to sign at a number of locations along the Highway 68 corridor, including the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce office, the Minneota and Canby city offices, the Porter Cafe, Rusty's Corner Cafe in Taunton and many other businesses near the highway. The petitions will be collected the week of Nov. 26, Day said.
Besides circulating the petition, the Highway 68 Coalition is continuing to gather information and work to build the case for highway improvements. So far, the response has been good, Day said. Local EDAs and county highway engineers have contributed helpful information. But the group also wants to hear from the public. Day said the coalition has a web page on the Discover Southwest Minnesota site. One of the coalition's future projects is to develop a way to collect public feedback online.
"We want to make sure there's a site to report near-misses (of collisions)," Day said.
The process of planning and funding state highway projects takes a lot of time, Day said, so the final results of the coalition's efforts may not come until after 2017.
"The timeline is long-term," she said, although the need for improvements was current.