Old Sibley Memorial Highway soon could be orphaned

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 27, 2012 - 7:00 PM

Once a key piece of Hwy. 13, the mile stretch might be closed and have pavement removed.

A scenic segment of state highway is looking for a new home.

A section of Old Sibley Memorial Highway, overlooking the Minnesota River Valley and Fort Snelling in Mendota Heights, is up for adoption as the Minnesota Department of Transportation prepares to disown it as a state highway.

Because neither Mendota Heights nor Dakota County has stepped up to take in the orphaned mile, MnDOT is considering closing off a section and removing pavement at the halfway point to make the land part of Fort Snelling State Park.

The north and south ends of the road -- which both connect with Hwy. 13 -- would remain open to serve two businesses and a church.

This and other ideas are still under discussion by MnDOT, the city of Mendota Heights, Dakota County and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. A firmed-up proposal will be presented to the public at an open house this summer at a date yet to be set, said Lynn Clarkowski, MnDOT's south area manager.

Old Sibley Memorial Highway was originally part of Hwy. 13. In the 1990s, MnDOT rebuilt and rerouted Hwy. 13 and Old Sibley was left behind.

"This is a redundant piece of roadway. It is not acting as a state highway," and it creates unnecessary expense for the state, Clarkowski said. "It's really been acting as a local road."

Normally MnDOT reassigns old roads when it builds a new road, but for some reason that did not happen with Old Sibley, Clarkowski said. It came to MnDOT's attention when it reached a routine cycle for paving.

Following the river bluff line, Old Sibley runs past the Big Rivers Regional Trail scenic overlook, which offers a panoramic view of water, valley and sky. The road is also home to two businesses: Hudson Trucking Co. and LCS Inc., a manufacturing firm.

And it is the route by which Mendota Heights police respond to emergencies on the trail and at the businesses.

Mendota Heights' preference is that the road stay open on MnDOT's budget.

"Old Sibley Memorial Highway not only provides access to the views and wildlife in the beautiful Fort Snelling State Park but it also is an important historical feature that commemorates the location of key treaty agreements between the federal government and Native American tribal leaders," Mendota Heights City Council members said in a recent letter to legislators.

"The city of Mendota Heights wishes to have a drivable roadway remain open and passable for its current length with the state of Minnesota retaining maintenance responsibility for the roadway."

It would be a hardship for the city to take over the plowing and maintenance of the road because the city already has 71 miles of streets to care for with a staff of five, City Engineer John Mazzitello said.

Susan Stotts, owner of LCS, said that her firm has been on the highway since 1950 and that she opposes closing the road.

"It's a hugely traveled road," she said. "There is a big trucking firm next door to me, and we have lots and lots of semis ourselves."

Even if only the midsection of the road were closed, Stotts is not keen on the idea. "We don't want people in our parking lot trying to turn around because they can't get through any more.''

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287

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