Feds OK environmental review on Highway 53 project

Aerial footage shows where the state's tallest bridge will span the Rochleau Pit in the $240 million Highway 53 relocation project on Northern Minnesota's Iron Range. (PHOTO: Screen shot from drone footage by Terry Hartikka)

Aerial footage shows where the state’s tallest bridge will span the Rochleau Pit in the $240 million Highway 53 relocation project on Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. (PHOTO: Screen shot from drone footage by Terry Hartikka)

Federal regulators have approved the environmental review for the Highway 53 relocation project on Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. The state seeks to move the existing road — a vital north-south artery for the whole region — to accommodate an old agreement with mining interests who wish to extract iron ore beneath the current road.

The new road would require the construction of the state’s highest bridge over the Rochleau Pit outside Virginia and another bridge to route traffic onto Highway 135 toward Gilbert.

The environmental review approval does not, however, address the funding shortfall for the project which will likely cost more than $240 million. The state has committed a portion of that, but will be looking for federal help to complete the new bridges and highway, especially in the likely event of cost overruns.

This Thursday, Oct. 1, engineers will host a 10 a.m. forum at Minnesota DOT offices in Virginia to give citizens an update on the progress.

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