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Minnesota Department of Transportation officials are planning to resurface about 8 miles of Hwy. 21 from about 1 mile west of I-35 west to Hwy. 99 in 2021. The road has narrow shoulders and skirts Shields and Mazaska lakes, making the project, which won’t employ a detour, slightly more challenging. (Suzanne Rook/southernminn.com)

Except for the upheaval at Jefferson Parkway and Hwy. 246 in Northfield, and some minor road repairs, the 2020 construction season has been pretty quiet in Rice County. That’s about the change.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has several big projects planned for the next 20 years, including two roundabouts and repaving the county’s most well-traveled highways. And while nothing’s certain until shovels hit the ground, MnDOT’s plans seemed pretty firm.

During its Oct. 16 meeting, Rice County commissioners heard from MnDOT District 6 Planning Director Heather Lukes, who reviewed the department’s plans for the entire district with a focus on the 2021-30 plan for Rice County.

The biggest of all is the anticipated six-leg roundabout at the Interstate 35/Hwy. 19 interchange between Lonsdale and Northfield. Commissioners last month agreed to spend $33,000 to help pay for a study of the area, looking at soils, geography and more to ensure a proposed six-leg roundabout will work as envisioned and move traffic safely and efficiently. Since MnDOT hasn’t allocated funds other than $67,000 for the upcoming study, there’s no date associated with the $3 million project.

Any groundbreaking is dependent on funding, largely from grants from MnDOT and the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Next year, Shieldsville residents will see more than their fair share of orange cones as MnDOT begins its $3.9 million Hwy. 21 project to resurface about 8 miles from about 1 mile west of I-35 west to Hwy. 99. New turn and bypass lanes will be installed at Shields Court, Mazaska Lake Trail, Lake Mazaska Boat Launch and French Lake Trail. Additionally, the Rice County Road 62/Halstad Avenue intersection will be improved and overhead lighting will be added to improve safety.

Because there’s so little shoulder on much of that portion of road and no paved roads to use as detours, traffic will continue to move through the section while work is being done. Bids are expected to be let later this month.

According to MnDOT’s current plan, work slows again until 2023. That’s when it expects to resurface all four lanes of I-35 from County Road 48 to Hwy. 21 and contribute funding to Faribault first roundabout at Hwy. 3 and 30th Street NW. The roundabout project, led by the city of Faribault, is designed to simplify a difficult intersection and prepare that section of the city for anticipated growth.

Work ramps up again in 2025, with the much anticipated resurfacing of Hwy. 19 from Hwy. 13 west of New Prague all the way to Hwy. 3 in Northfield. The project is separated into two parts, split at I-35.

County Engineer Dennis Luebbe has said discussions about the Garrett/Decker/Hwy. 19 intersection just south of Northfield Hospital are ongoing. MnDOT’s Lukes last week suggested a traffic signal at the site might be the solution. Bridgewater Township has long looked to upgrade the intersection, considered difficult with its offset north/south legs.

In October 2010, Northfield city staff proposed a roundabout at the intersection and suggested applying for grants to pay for some of the work. But the City Council couldn’t get on board and nixed that plan and the following year one for a proposed business park on nearby land that had been recently annexed into the city.

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. Follow her on Twitter @rooksuzy. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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