Political theater ensures people keep ‘driving through’ Range

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)

It’s been a busy week and will be a busy weekend, so I can’t get too wound up about highway politics on the Mesabi Iron Range. After all, I’ve probably said enough in recent months about State Highway 53 and St. Louis County Highway 5, both of which are on the move to accommodate mining activity.

I’m not here to argue the mining, but rather the fact that the sum total of the cost for all the highways and all the related expenses will be well over a quarter billion dollars and it’s going out the door with almost a shrug and a “whatchu’ gone’ do?” attitude.

Further, I’m about done with the way public boards and councils are used like pawns in political games, passing resolutions to create political momentum for big industry. Case in point, the Hibbing School Board passing a resolution supporting the county plan to move Highway 5 for Hibbing Taconite, even as the most affected city of Chisholm is actively asking questions about that plan. Why is the school board weighing in? Chisholm’s idea might slow down the bus routes to Side Lake. And also the county asked.

Meantime, a groundbreaking for the Highway 53 project took place yesterday. The Pioneer Press published a sweeping story asking why such a big project was being done to help a mine that has been idled indefinitely. Answer: the lease is up. Someone will mine that ore. Someday.

(I still want to know why they don’t push the dump into the pit and call it good for half the cost).

It’s not so much that I’m worried about the current downturn (though I am, and so are most others), but the fact that Minnesota’s iron mining industry is so dang slow to modernize its technology and adapt to newer steelmaking technology. The Mesabi is literally built to feed a version of the steel industry that is going extinct. Most frustrating, the technology exists to adapt, but the companies are too cash-strapped and cautious to move ahead. They’d just really like to make sure we move their highways for them anyway.

But as State Rep. Jason Metsa puts it in today’s Duluth News Tribune story, we have to put the Highway 5 in perspective:

“We’re one of the main thoroughfares to Canada. I really think that, had any other route been selected, we might have been bypassed and people could be going through Bemidji instead and God knows we need those dollars for fill-ups getting spent in our community as people are driving through,” Metsa said.

If we don’t modernize the Range’s iron mining industry and diversify our economy, this quote will become a tragic truth.


  1. John Kysylyczyn says

    I just drove up to Winnipeg taking the Highway 53 route and Metsa can’t be more wrong with his comments.

    No one is going to drive to Canada from anywhere south of Bemidji because there are no decent straight line roads taking you there. I looked. I spent a week on and off looking over the map and there are only two reasonable ways to get to Canada. I-29 or US 53. Only if you lived in the north third of the state would you use any other roads.

    All this baloney about spending a quarter billion dollars on a bridge to nowhere just to prevent people from bypassing a town… Here is my statement. I gassed up in the Twin Cities and didn’t stop until I hit the station a few blocks south of the International Bridge. You can spend 10 billion dollars rerouting 53 through a half dozen towns if you want and I still will not stop. If you play games like add stop lights for the purpose of trying to siphon off cars to local businesses, you will just encourage people like me to take 94 to North Dakota and then up 29.

  2. Reid Carron says

    Jason Metsa’s brain is an irony-free zone.

  3. Perhaps eventually, range politicians will become more honest, obtain a WMD and every time they want something threaten the rest of the state with destruction like a mafioso. It would reduce the wasted political theater and absurdist histrionics and perhaps save money. But, that wouldn’t require consultants, subcontracts, back scratching and 70 million dollar per mile roads to ensure traffic flow for Target and Menards. Heck, if we don’t do that, Virginia might be full of shuttered business and aging rental properties.

  4. I think it’s time we stop spending more then can ever return supporting mining. It’s time to transition to thinking out of the box. We can’t expect the Planet to continue being restorative & resilient. What the ultimate cost? Back long ago we treated the Planets resources like money & we can’t afford that anymore. TY

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