Yellow Medicine County supports road swap to replace failed segment of Highway 67

·4 min read

Jun. 1—GRANITE FALLS

— Movement occurring 100-feet below the surface opened earthquake-like fissures along a quarter-mile section of Minnesota Highway 67 by the Upper Sioux Agency State Park south of Granite Falls in 2019.

The slope failure led the Minnesota Department of Transportation to close that segment of the roadway in April of that year.

It will never be open again.

The Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding with MnDOT at their meeting on May 24. It will allow MnDOT to permanently reroute a portion of Highway 67 to avoid the failed area. MnDOT will upgrade and designate Yellow Medicine County Road 2 as a new portion of the state highway. The road swap involves approximately six miles of County Road 2 that will become state highway and 5.4 miles of existing Highway 67 that will become a county road.

The project cost is currently estimated to be in the range of $10 million to $11 million, Cody Brand, engineer and project manager with MnDOT, told the commissioners. The cost will be paid to the county as a lump sum payment when the turn over is completed, which is anticipated to be Oct. 31.

"This is a difficult situation for the state, but to me it is a difficult situation for the county," Gary Johnson, a Yellow Medicine County commissioner, told Brand. His comment came after the commissioners and Brand reviewed the potential costs for upgrading the roadways to state standards.

Johnson had expressed concerns about the costs, including the need to eventually replace a large culvert installed in 1948 on a segment of the roadway. Overall, 43 culverts will need to be replaced as part of the project.

Brand said he understood the county's concerns. "It's not where any of us want to be," said the engineer of the decision to permanently close a portion of Highway 67. "It's the reality of the situation."

An analysis for MnDOT showed that replacing the slope failure segment of highway at its existing location would cost an estimated $37.9 million to $46.5 million. Rebuilding that segment on land that is part of the Upper Sioux Agency State Park would cost an estimated $22.7 million to $30.2 million.

The eye-popping cost estimates are not the only obstacle to rebuilding the failed section of roadway. Any work proposed there would cause huge environmental and cultural impacts to a very sensitive area. "I'm not sure that even if we had the money, we would get clearance from those impacts," Brand told the commissioners.

Underground movement at the site has slowed since 2019, which was a year with above-normal precipitation. Some movement is still occurring. Brand noted that it is impossible to predict how much movement will occur in the future. Erosion of the Yellow Medicine River and the fluctuation in groundwater levels are considered the causes of the slope failure.

Along with the slope failure, the movements are putting pressure on a bridge that spans the Yellow Medicine River near the entrance to the state park campground along the river. Brand said MnDOT projects that the bridge will remain serviceable until 2026. MnDOT will be responsible for its removal, he said.

Highway 67 is a constitutionally dedicated roadway. MnDOT is obligated to maintain a highway connection between Granite Falls and Echo, according to Brand.

MnDOT considered two options for replacing the failed link. The preferred option is the one now approved to turn the portion of Yellow Medicine County State Aid Highway 2 from Wood Lake to the existing Highway 67 as a portion of Highway 67.

The other option would have turned portions of Renville County Road 10 into the new route.

Yellow Medicine Commissioner John Berends said the county prefers keeping the replacement link within the county. He noted that the closure of the failed segment and the eventual loss of the bridge over the Yellow Medicine River are very disruptive to residents who will have longer travel distances to Granite Falls. "I've gotten more calls on this road than anything in my 10 years being a commissioner," he said during the discussions.