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169 project coming to life

by Tom CoombeWith nearly $3 million in improvements on the way and funding for more in the works, members of the Highway 169 Task Force will reconvene.The group that recommended $43 million in improvements and reconstruction for the thoroughfare between Ely and Virginia will gather April 29 at the Tower Civic Center (6:30 p.m.).Andy Hubley, who facilitated task force activities for the Arrowhead Regional Development Council, is scheduled to attend the public meeting and present an update on the 169 project as well as other area highway projects.Task force members, including representatives from each entity along the highway, met several times in 2000 and 2001 and recommended a series of safety-related improvements to state highway officials and U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D).Oberstar has pursued federal money for the project through updates to the Transportation Efficiencies Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) initiative.Aides to Oberstar have informed task force leaders that special federal funding for the 169 project could be passed this spring or early summer.Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Duluth office has recently received $2.8 million for an improvement plan for 169.Work expected to be done between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15 includes:• New overlay between Rice River and Tower to include turn lane construction;• Culverts between Ely and Soudan;• Spot overlay on 26 miles of roadway.Plans call for daytime single-lane closures during the Aug. 1-Sept. 15 period.Rudy Semeja, chairman of the 169 Task Force, is hoping for a good turnout of both task force members and the general public for the April 29 session.He said citizen input is needed to boost the project, which task force members say will make the highway safer as well as improve economic development efforts.Barring special legislation, federal funding to pay for the upgrades to 169 may not be available until 2020.Original work completed by the task force called for initial efforts to corral more than $14.5 million, $1 million of safety improvements such as turn lanes, signage and lighting and $13.5 million for right-of-way, engineering and reconstruction of roadways in the Soudan and Eagles Nest areas. The group also recommended $29 million-plus for various other priorities for reconstruction along the roadway between Virginia and Ely.They include:• $1.75 million for right-of-way, engineering and construction of two dedicated passing lanes between Tower and Ely;• $4.5 million for reconstruction of the intersection at the former Y-Store near Tower;• $6.75 million for reconstruction of Vermilion Lake Township (13 Hills) segment;• $1.4 million to construct a set of dedicated passing lanes between Tower and Highway 53;• $4.5 million for redesign and reconstruction of the Soudan access roads area;• $11.8 million for the reconstruction of a segment in Morse Township.

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