Hwy 53 reroute is DOA

No one liked it, and it was called dead on arrival a month ago, but just to make sure, several Iron Range lawmakers this week took steps to formally kill the western reroute option for U.S. Highway 53 in Virginia.

The Duluth News Tribune reports Sen. Dave Tomassoni of Chisholm, added an amendment killing the west option onto the Senate Omnibus Transportation bill that passed on Tuesday. State Rep. Jason Metsa, of Virginia, said he will add the amendment to the House version scheduled for a vote yesterday.

The western route would have taken motorists around dozens of businesses and bypassed Eveleth and Virginia altogether.

Highway 53 has to be rerouted between Eveleth and Virginia because Cliffs Natural Resources gave notice in 2010 that it would terminate its easement for the road in May 2017. MnDOT must have a new road open by then.

Cliffs wants to mine taconite iron ore under the road’s current location and, because of a 1960 easement negotiated between the state and the previous owner of the mineral rights, the state apparently doesn’t have the option to say no.

Some local officials have suggested using the state’s right of eminent domain to acquire land from Cliffs for the highway. MnDOT officials said that would only be a last option if no other alternatives were workable.