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      Five-ninety-never: Rio Tinto is moving forward with truck plan

      It's the end of the road for Marquette County Road 595.

      The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality did not issue a permit for the 21-mile route. Instead, double-bottom trucks will travel three times as far--64 miles one way--between the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine site and the Humboldt Processing Mill.

      "Like many other people, we were disappointed with the decision on 595, but it does give us clarity going forward," said Dan Blondeau, Rio Tinto Media Relations.

      Rio Tinto spent seven years and $20 million seeking permits for the route. They will now work with the Marquette County Road Commission on improving existing roads. MCRC engineer manager, Jim Iwanicki, said they are in the process of bringing on a team of consultants to create a plan for that construction.

      "We will be developing that scope of services over the next month or so," said Iwanicki.

      Trucks will leave the Eagle Mine in Michigamme Township by driving on AAA road and County Roads 510 and 550. That 33-mile stretch of roadway will need to be upgraded to all-season trucking standards.

      About five miles of CR-550 is in good shape already, around the halfway location and Eagles Nest Road. The work on CR-550 will likely happen this summer.

      "The work on AAA and 510 would probably be happening in the 2014 construction season," Iwanicki said.

      Trucks will enter the city of Marquette on CR-550, turning onto Sugar Loaf Avenue and then Wright Street. City officials have not said if their route will need improvements.

      One of the last turns the trucks will make is from Wright Street onto US-41 in Marquette Township. The MCRC will work with M-DOT on plans to improve this intersection. When the mine starts production in 2014, Eagle Mine trucks will take an estimated 50 round trips per day.

      Based on a 2009 MCRC traffic study, Rio Tinto estimates their trucks will be four to six percent of the total traffic on CR-550. The trucks will be two to four percent of traffic on Wright Street and one to three percent on US-41.

      "The amount of traffic that we'll have during production is greatly reduced from that that we had during construction," Blondeau said, referring to 2011.

      The trucks will all be equipped with GPS units that will measure driving habits and speed. Blondeau emphasized that safety remains a priority of Rio Tinto. Iwanicki estimates the upgrades to AAA, CR-510, and CR-550 will cost $35-$40 million for construction and engineering. That entire amount will be paid for by Rio Tinto.

      Blondeau added that the CR-595 proposal would have gone through the federal permitting process. That procedure could have taken years. With the start of production expected next year, the company felt it did not have time to wait for that process.