Iron Range officials fear dangers of Hwy 53 reroute

Iron Range newsNew problems arising from the much anticipated reroute of the Iron Range’s primary north-south highway might require more funding, officials now say. Highway 53 has to be rerouted between Virginia and Eveleth next year to accommodate mining by Cliffs Natural Resources at United Taconite.

One version of the Hwy 53 reroute would dramatically reshape the southern entrance to Virginia, routing around the dump south of town (the one with the big trucks perched on the overlook) and over or alongside the Rocheleau Pit. Another would build an even more expensive bridge over active mining land.

The Mesabi Daily News reports that local city officials are worried about the safety of the new Highway 53 intersection with Highway 135, the road that connects Virginia to Gilbert and, later, Biwabik, Aurora and Hoyt Lakes.

From that story:

Problems include:
• A stop sign is slated to be placed at the left turn lane from southbound Highway 53 for eastbound Highway 135 toward the East Range, under the existing plan.
• Heavy, large trucks hauling iron concentrate from Chisholm or the West Range east toward Mesabi Nugget near Aurora and Hoyt Lakes would be crossing two lanes of northbound Highway 53 traffic.
• There would be no westbound merge from Highway 135 onto southbound Highway 53.
• Suggestions to reroute traffic through Gilbert or Eveleth would increase safety risks in those towns, officials said.
• Elimination of the west 135 onto southbound 53 ramp in the proposed relocation, due to low traffic numbers, would become a problem when future mining projects on the East Range such as PolyMet start up.

The two new intersection options that came forward from MnDOT include:
• A “compressed diamond” 53-135 interchange, like the Highway 169-53 interchange by Hoover Road, or the Highways 37-53 junction south of Eveleth, would still leave no west 135-to-south 53 route.
• An eastbound 135 ramp from southbound 53 going under the two northbound 53 lanes, would have bridges.
The options will be included in the project’s draft environmental impact statement to be released this spring.

The mayors worry the new, full stop 53/135 intersection would be unsafe.

And apparently traffic studies can be rendered moot if you cite fervent hopes that future traffic would be much, much higher. But I digress.

Check out the MN-DOT proposals for the Hwy 53 reroute for a clearer idea of the options under consideration.

Highway 53 reroute options from the Minnesota Department of Transportation

Highway 53 reroute options from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. (Right click to view full size)

It’s pretty fascinating. The Range hasn’t seen a highway relocation this dramatic in my lifetime.


  1. In the big scheme of things Aaron, that’s not saying much…you’re not that old.
    The only common sense route is west of town.

  2. Elanne Palcich says

    If the rerouting cost gets high enough, why don’t they just pay Cliffs off.

  3. That’s a good question Elanne, to which we should know the answer. In term of ore value, revenue and jobs (direct and secondary)…I’m guessing it’s in the billions. BUT, it’s a number worth knowing. And would bring light to just how valuable the mining industry is to us all, especially during these times of demonizing corporate America..

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