There can now be no doubt in MnDOT Commissioner Thomas Sorel's mind as to the severe safety risks that exist on Highway 60.
One after another, members of the 380-person audience at the Windom Community Center testified about head-on collisions and near-misses. Sorel and other MnDOT leaders were told repeatedly about the mix of two-lane and four-lane highway causes motorists to become confused as to which type of highway they are on - two lane or four-lane.
Among the many examples came from John Regier, a farmer from the Mt. Lake area. John recalled following a car from Windom to Mt. Lake on Super Bowl Sunday. The car spent the entire 13-mile trip in the wrong lane. He spoke with the woman later and learned that she thought she was on a four-lane highway.
Area motorists at Thursday's meeting made it crystal clear, cars traveling great distances in the wrong lane are not uncommon.
District 7 MnDOT Engineer Jim Swanson and others have admitted that motorist confusion is a big problem on the highway - so much so, they've installed signs informing motorists of "passing opportunities."
Guests could have heard a pin drop when local school bus driver Bob Duncan recalled the day one of those confusing Highway 60 moments nearly ended in tragedy. Duncan's westbound bus, which was carrying 48 students, dodged three eastbound vehicles by veering to the shoulder.
The audience fell silent once more when former Windom bus driver Carl Nordquist told of a near-tragedy involving his bus on Highway 60, just west of Bingham Lake.
Nordquist turned to the commissioner and said, "You're going to build a $23-million building (using highway funds) and how many kids can you lose at one time? I don't think the building is worth it."
Tom Sorel deserves a tremendous amount of credit for coming to Windom last week. Some people - knowing full well this is a hot-button issue - would have ducked this meeting.
Sorel came here because he wanted to be better-informed. He now should know the only realistic solution to the growing number of head-on collisions on Highway 60 is to finish the 40-year-old four-lane expansion project.
The ball is in MnDOT's court. The department has been directed by lawmakers to finish the Highway 60 expansion, all of it.
Our MnDOT leaders can heed that directive, or defy it. One thing is clear, the longer we wait to finish Highway 60, the more head-on collisions we will see.
In our view, MnDOT leaders have a chance to be real heroes. They can start by putting the $23-million Mankato snowplow building on hold and putting those funds toward finishing Highway 60.