Gov. Tim Walz arrived in Henderson on sunny Thursday afternoon, July 16 to express his support for flood mitigation efforts in Henderson along Highway 93.
The governor was backed by other state representatives, chief among them Sen. Scott Newman, Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation Margaret Anderson Kelliher and MnDOT District Engineer Greg Ous, who all expressed support for the project.
Highlighting the need for flood mitigation, the tall camping directional sign on Highway 93 by Henderson was affixed with more than 20 markers showing the water levels and years that flooding occured, including four separate markers for the four different flood events that have occurred this year, closing Highway 93 each time.
“Now it is critical because the frequency has increased so dramatically,” Mayor Paul Menne said.
However, finding the end zone recently has proved difficult, as House Republicans, who are needed to pass a bonding bill, have been very vocal about not doing so unless Walz agrees to end his emergency powers and work with the legislature on COVID-19 measures.
The impass has resulted in multiple failures to pass a bonding bill this year, and Gruenhagen confirmed that the House still holds that position.
“This project is on the 5-yard line; we just have to punt it into the end zone,” Gruenhagen added.
However, Walz was hopeful that would be changing, as the legislature convened another special session on Monday, July 13, and have until Monday, July 20 to pass a bonding bill.
If a bonding bill is not passed by Monday, Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget Myron Frans said the state would need to redo its offering statement for bonds, as they are only good for five to seven weeks.
The governor said he was optimistic a bonding bill would pass this time, and said not only would there be a lot of irritated people if a bonding bill did not pass, but costs will increase and the state’s ability to sell bonds will go down. In addition, Walz said he has about 30 executive orders he would be willing to let the legislature take over.
“The pressure to get this done, the reality of where we are at in the COVID-19 situation, and the economics behind this puts quite a bit of pressure on us to get it done,” Walz said.
In conclusion, Walz confirmed that funding flood mitigation efforts for Henderson is a priority of his.
“Henderson’s voice was heard loud and clear,” Walz said.
HIGHWAY 93 PROJECT
Finding a solution for flooding in Henderson has been a major effort in the past six years, and for good reason.
Menne has previously stated that the state cost, when Highways 19, 93 and County Road 6 are simultaneously closed due to flooding, is $93,000 a day. That cost includes vehicle hours traveled and vehicle miles traveled but does not include the economic impact to businesses.
Right now, the state is hoping to move forward with a project that would raise Highway 93 out of the 100-year flood plain. This would involve raising the roadway up as much as eight feet in some places, including by the levee on Highway 93. Doing so would require bridge replacement at the Rush River, with possibly a second bridge, MnDOT Project Manager Matt Young informed the Independent on Friday.
In order to do that, MnDOT crews would need to rip up the existing road and haul in enough aggregate to build up the road. The project would also require widening the road by two feet on each side, and the shoulders would go out six feet, Young said. Altogether, the project is estimated to cost $23-25 million.
According to Young, if the project goes through this year, they would be planning to start construction in 2023.
“Right now we are moving forward as if we are getting this funding,” Young said.
Preliminary design work has already started and they are working on a hydraulic analysis of the Rush River.
“That analysis will identify what our bridge needs will be and what acquisitions around the area will be like,” Young added.
The biggest part of the project will be right-of-way acquisitions with the land owners all along the Highway 93 corridor between Henderson and Highway 169. Young estimates that alone will be a two-year process.
During the governor’s visit on Thursday, Henderson resident Brendan Moore echoed his belief that fixing flooding on Highway 19 would be more beneficial not only to local residents and businesses, but for Sibley County as well.
However, that project comes with a significantly higher price tag. When the feasibility study was completed in 2017, the cost of bringing Highway 19 out of the 100-year flood plain was approximately $40 million. Young said adjusting for inflation, a new preliminary estimate to fix Highway 19 is around $57 million, and would likely cost more.
Young also stressed that Highway 93 is more prone to flooding than County Road 6 or Highway 19. While all three roads were flooded for approximately two months last year, this year flooding has closed Highway 93 four times totaling 22 days, while the other two roads have remained open.
The road closures cost MnDOT a lot of time and energy as well, as crews need to put up signs announcing the road closures, monitor the river and river levels during the closure, remove any log jams that occur as a result of flooding, and clean and repair the road when waters recede.
“This has been a long time coming, has been needed for a while and MnDOT wants to see this happen,” Young said, also highlighting the safety component as being able to keep Highway 93 open will connect Henderson to mutual aid from police, fire and ambulances in Le Sueur.