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Man questions what has been done to improve traffic flow

A resident asserted on Thursday that seven minutes to get through the detour to downtown Bemidji was "unacceptable."

Gary Bientz was among about 25 people who attended a weekly public information meeting about Bemidji Avenue roadwork Thursday morning at Bemidji City Hall.

He said the city and Minnesota Department of Transportation have done little to improve the flow of traffic, asking why officers with the Bemidji Police Department were not stationed at the intersection to monitor and ticket illegal driving habits.

"You're encouraging lawbreaking by going through the Pamida parking lot," he said.

Bientz said he typically can make it from Keith's Pizza to downtown in 30 seconds and the detour has increased that time by 10 to 15.

"That's unacceptable," he said, asking why stop signs had not been removed along Second Street and why the police department was not directing traffic.

Police Chief Gerald Johnson explained that police are needed to respond to other calls throughout the city and is unable to just monitor traffic all day.

"We don't have the manpower to put people at every intersection," he said.

Bientz replied that the city should then authorize overtime hours for officers.

Bemidji Police Capt. Bob Lehmann said the department does not have the funds available.

"This is construction season," he said, noting that Bientz's was just the second complaint he had fielded about the time delays the detour was causing.

Lehmann later noted that city is working with the Minnesota State Patrol to address the traffic that has been cutting through the Pamida parking lot to avoid the intersection.

Todd Vonasek, resident engineer with MnDOT, said the goal of the detour was always to keep traffic moving -- perhaps slowly at times, but moving nonetheless.

He also said MnDOT has secured "extraordinary enforcement" from the State Patrol to increase its presence in the detour zone.

Andy Mack, the city's public works director, said it was taking drivers about seven minutes to get from Keith's Pizza to downtown.

"We're doing the best we can," he said.

The roadwork is expected to be complete by mid-August.

Rich Kane, an inspector with MnDOT, explained that the reconstruction project also includes replacement of the 100-year-old sanitary sewer infrastructure, which no longer can be repaired; it must be replaced

"There are no easy fixes for anything here," he said. "We just have to live with it for three months."