VIRGINIA — At least two key items remain for the $180-$240 million relocation of Highway 53 in the Virginia and Eveleth areas — funding and meeting a May 2017 completion deadline.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar got a firsthand update Tuesday in Virginia as stakeholders and local officials met on the project.
Finding money to pay for the relocation is next up after the E-2 route over the Rouchleau Pit was recently recommended as the preferred alternative.
“It’s a route we think will work,’’ Klobuchar said. “We now know the game will be the funding.’’
One possible source of funds is the trillion dollars of corporate holdings sitting in banks overseas, according to the senator. She is hopeful the corporations will bring the money back to the United States and invest it through incentives created in Congress. A certain percentage could then go into a transportation fund for projects like the Highway 53 relocation, she added.
“It’s a real proposal out there,’’ Klobuchar said.
Duane Hill, district engineer for MnDOT, added that $90 million through the sale of bonds has been allocated for the project in 2017. However, the bond sale may have to be moved up with the relocation on a fast track, he said.
The rest of the funds would have to be worked into the MnDOT budget or possibly come from the Legislature, which convenes next month, Hill said. “We’re hoping for new funding’’ at the state and federal levels, he said.
Regarding the completion date, Hill said MnDOT has discussed the deadline with Cliffs Natural Resources, which owns United Taconite in Eveleth. “We think we’re going to have trouble meeting the deadline.’’
However, Hill stated MnDOT still has to determine if a deadline extension will be sought. A lot depends on the ultimate start date and if the design process provides any time saving measures. MnDOT is not leaning either way right now, he added.
The highway relocation is needed because Cliffs Natural Resources exercised its mineral rights under the current roadway for an expansion of United Taconite sometime in 2017. Cliffs contacted MnDOT about the need to relocate Highway 53 in 2010.
MnDOT announced last month that the northernmost option for the highway relocation had been chosen. It will require a 200-foot-high, 1,150-foot-long suspension bridge over a narrow part of the Rouchleau Pit.
The roadway will then exit the bridge close to TRITECH Steel Fabrication’s expansion into the former Staver Foundry site and connect with Second Avenue before hooking up with the current highway just before the city’s softball fields and continue on its northerly route.
The route was picked over another option requiring a longer bridge of 2,900 feet above a wider section of the pit (E-1A), which would have hooked up more directly with Second Avenue in Virginia.
And it was also preferred compared to a route over the Auburn Mine.
A westerly route that would have totally bypassed Virginia’s retail sector, including downtown, Target, Super One South, Menards and Thunderbird Mall was previously rejected.