Farewell, Highway 53 western route plan

range.jpgLand speculators in Iron Junction were saddened to learn yesterday that the Minnesota Department of Transportation has now, finally and forever, cancelled the remote possibility that Highway 53 could be routed west of Eveleth and Virginia.

Highway 53 is the aorta of Minnesota’s Iron Range and it has to be re-routed between Eveleth and Virginia to make room for Cliffs Natural Resources mining plans at United Taconite. MNDOT floated several possible routes, one of which would have put the highway as far west as St. Louis Co. Highway 7, essentially bypassing Eveleth and sending traffic north through Mt. Iron.

This proposal was probably the least popular abstract concept I’ve ever encountered in Iron Range news and politics. It was an idea that could only come from the cold confines of an engineering office. It was, after all, the cheapest option and one that wouldn’t have to be moved again someday to accommodate future mining.

Now, MNDOT is left with two options that keep 53 the same through Eveleth and route east of Virginia. One of these routes would involve a bridge through the mining area and the other would involve a huge bridge across the Rochleau pit, possibly the most expensive new bridge built on the Iron Range since I was born.

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