Has the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) made the right decisions for the Winona bridge project? Has it carefully considered historic, aesthetic, environmental, social, and economic concerns properly? The public has a chance to weigh in on that question by speaking at an October 17 public hearing or by writing letters throughout this month.
The hearing may be the last in the handful of public meetings Mn/DOT has hosted on the bridge project. Citizens' testimony at the hearing will play an important part in determining whether Mn/DOT receives the final approval it needs to move forward with the project or if it must reconsider its plans, Mn/DOT officials note. However, Mn/DOT itself is in charge of considering public input and forming conclusions on whether the agency did, in fact, do a good job, listened to citizens, and followed the law. Officially, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) makes the final determination, but Mn/DOT leaders explained that the FHWA oversight consists of reviewing the conclusions reached by Mn/DOT.
Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), all federally-funded projects must compare the environmental, social, historic, aesthetic, and economic impacts for proposed designs and all alternative options. The reason for the law is to "assure all Americans safe, healthful, productive, and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings," as well as to "preserve historic, cultural and natural aspects." Before moving forward with the project, Mn/DOT must demonstrate that it has selected the best possible option for fulfilling those goals.
Mn/DOT's 416-page Environmental Assessment for the Winona bridge project is an attempt to demonstrate that. FHWA has already given the assessment a preliminary approval and the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board has viewed it, as well. Unless public comments sway officials, Mn/DOT, with approval from the FHWA, appears primed to make a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). With municipal consent from the city of Winona already in hand, a FONSI is the last thing Mn/DOT needs to start construction.
Mn/DOT's Environmental Assessment may be viewed online at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/d6/projects/winonabridge/ea.html and during business hours at the Winona Public Library and at the Department of Public Works in the Winona City Hall building.
The public hearing will be held on Thursday, October 17, at the Winona Armory from 4 to 6 p.m.
Written comments can be sent to Terry Ward, Design Engineer, Minnesota Department of Transportation, 2900 48th Street N.W., Rochester, MN 55901, until October 30.