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Pioneer Editorial: Road delay creates gated community

For most of the summer, the answer to any visitor to Bemidji asking directions around the downtown area and north was simply, "You can't get there from here." Now, with fall on the mind and Bemidji schools starting next week -- Bemidji State University already started this week -- the same answer is true.

People driving along Bemidji Avenue can't turn east into the core area unless they navigate around barricades and then traverse ripped up roadbeds. The city "Cross Street Project" involves Ninth Street to 14th Street from Bemidji Avenue to Irvine Avenue, plus Third Street from Park Avenue to America Avenue.

The barricades were placed at the corners in early June, in anticipation of the pending work. The Bemidji City Council awarded a bid to a local contractor at $757,783 on June 19. Shortly thereafter, the barricades went up and the roads milled off.

Then nothing.

And still nothing.

Traveling that area has essentially created a gated community, taking monumental detours to get anywhere inside that gated community.

Perhaps the ultimate frustration came this week in trying to figure out a way to get to the new County Administration Building from the south. Knowing you can't turn off Bemidji Avenue to the building, and with portions of Minnesota Avenue already closed off for Judicial Center construction, one may turn east before downtown and try the "back way." But then there's barricades on Third Street, so you can't get to Irvine Avenue. You navigate around that, reach Irvine Avenue to drive north and then take Eighth Street to the County Administration Building parking lot.

Only this week, Eighth Street also has barricades.

While it's a noticeable problem this year, it's a pattern we've seen before. Construction in north Bemidji went similarly last year, with some work started in the summer being done as the snow fell.

In many state road contracts, a penalty clause is implemented to take a percentage of project costs off the bill for each day past a set deadline. It's obvious to us that the city must not have a such similar provision. And even if the contractor has problems, perhaps with blacktop supplies or equipment needed on other larger projects, projects with such disruptive potential as inhibiting access to the north downtown area should not be started without assurances of finishing within a firm deadline.

This way, it will probably late September, maybe October, or even into November before the streets are open -- just in time for the snowplows.