The difficulty for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which hopes to have the new route in place by 2017, is there aren't many viable places to put the road.
A stretch of Iron Range highway between Eveleth and Virginia must be moved to make way for a mine expansion, but a proposed route that would bypass both cities has raised the ire of many business owners along the current route.
Highway 53 runs past the United Taconite plant. Its owner, Cliffs Natural Resources, wants to mine underneath the highway and has the legal right to do it under a commitment the state made in 1960 to move the highway when the company was ready.
The difficulty for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which hopes to have the new route in place by 2017, is there aren't many viable places to put the road, Minnesota Public Radio reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/17IJKr1 ). The region is pockmarked by operating mines and abandoned pits.
"We're really hemmed in here," said Roberta Dwyer, who is overseeing the project for MnDOT.
Virginia prefers a route that would require a bridge over a deep abandoned mine pit. But MnDOT says that option could cost as much as $160 million. The state has set aside $60 million for the project so far.
More than 10,000 vehicles travel on Highway 53 through Eveleth every day, right past Ejay Dawson's Five Seasons Sports, which sells snowmobiles and ATVs. He's wrapping up a $1.5 million expansion and remodel, and said he undertook it only after MnDOT assured him the highway would remain in front of his dealership.
"They better darn follow their word. Whether it's more costly, that's the way it is. They spend millions and millions in the Twin Cities and nothing is ever thought about it," Dawson said. "Up here, because we have one project that's going to be expensive, all of a sudden it's way too expensive for MnDOT."
Another proposed route directly across United Taconite's operations, was dropped after Cliffs said it was not feasible because of safety, environmental and other issues. But St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson told Mesabi Daily News on Thursday that the option was back on the table.