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U.S. Highway 2: Federal stimulus act funds road improvements

Beginning Monday, a section of U.S. Highway 2 near Wilton will undergo reconstruction and bridge removal.

The plans were announced by Minnesota Department of Transportation in April and detailed at various public meetings. The result will be a detour for eastbound traffic 1.5 miles north on Beltrami County Road 515 (Scribner Road Northwest) and 2 miles south on state Highway 89. Westbound traffic will use the same detour in reverse. Construction is scheduled to be complete by mid-October.

The detour, which will effectively bypass the city of Wilton, has some business owners upset.

"They take the two busiest months out ... it's working against us," said Kent McKercher, owners of Cabinet Corners. "You're closing the doors on eight businesses."

The money for the work came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus fund.

Karen Bedeau, MnDOT public affairs coordinator, said the businesses won't really be cut off, as people can access them from the south via County Road 14 or from the frontage road off Highway 2.

"It's going to be inconvenient, but it's the nature of the beast," said Todd Vonasek, residential engineer for construction at MnDOT. The result will make the area safer and eliminate the need for repairs on an unnecessary bridge, he said.

Vonasek said the project will remove the 1968 bridge over the abandoned railroad grade and lower the highway by 8 feet. The railroad grade is used as a trail, so the bridges will be replaced by a box culvert large enough for the snowmobile trail groomer to safely pass through, he said.

Christiansen Industrial Developers of Bemidji won the $2,233,460 contract for the work. CID's design partner is Widseth Smith Nolting, also of Bemidji.

The project is almost 100 percent federally funded, Vonasek said.

He added that when the construction is complete, the businesses along Highway 2 in Wilton will become more visible to passersby.

Wilton Mayor Shelly Baker said she understands the frustration of McKercher and other business owners, but expressed appreciation that local, well-known companies will be doing the work, and that the road will be safer when it is complete.

"If we have stimulus money, we have to take advantage of it," Baker said.