by Steven Wright
In 2009, the Newsleader reported on a new beltline project proposed by Stearns County to help ease traffic around the St. Cloud area, including Sartell, St. Joseph and Waite Park.
The completed interchange at Hwy. 15 and CR 120 in Sartell has helped to increase safety and mobility for drivers, and the beltline project looks to expand on these benefits.
A series of studies conducted in 2009, including an Environmental Impact Study, laid the groundwork for future planning for the new roadway system. Engineers examined the following: the impact the beltline would have on historical and cultural resources; social and economic activity; environmental quality; water resources; and securing a right-of-way acquisition.
County Engineer Jodi Teich has been with Stearns County for more than 15 years and is overseeing the new project.
“There’s been a discussion about a beltway, ring road or arterial road around St. Cloud since I started in 1999,” Teich said in a Newsleader interview.
The ultimate goal of the 2009 studies was to build a road, section by section, to bypass the St. Cloud area. The beltline would extend St. Cloud’s 33rd Street S. to the west from Hwy 15 to Hwy 23, and then north to the intersection of CR 4 and CR 133.
Three potential paths include the following: a west corridor near the edge of St. Joseph; a central corridor stretching through growth areas of St. Joseph and Waite Park; and an eastern corridor through Waite Park and the eastern edge of St. Joseph.
Funding and state approval for a large-scale project like the beltline has proved to be a lengthy, arduous process and establishing financial support has encountered a few roadblocks.
The Federal Transportation Funding Bill that gave Stearns County the funding to start this project had a few changes to its rules. After the study was completed, the Federal Highway Administration interpreted all the new rules of the bill and told Stearns County they couldn’t approve or review the documents until funding for the next phase was set aside.
“It’s a catch-22,” Teich said. “They provided us the money to do the study, but now they can’t approve the project until funding is available.”
With the beltline project temporarily sidelined, Teich’s current focus is to preserve and maintain current road systems with funding that is available. This means resurfacing, minor widening of roads and finding ways to improve traffic flow and shorten routes.
The Newsleader will continue to follow the beltline project and provide additional information as it becomes available.