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MnDOT awarded $18 million grant for Highway 197 reconstruction in Bemidji

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has been awarded $18 million as a part of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grants, which will be used to fund the reconstruction of Highway 197.

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The reconstruction of Highway 197 from Hannah Avenue to Gillett Drive will include the construction of three roundabouts and an urbanized cross-section with trails and lighting on both sides of the roadway.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Gov. Tim Walz announced on Friday that the Minnesota Department of Transportation has been awarded $18 million in Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grants to help fund reconstruction on Highway 197 in Bemidji.

Over the last several years, MnDOT has been working to formulate a design for the reconstruction on a stretch of the highway from Gillett Drive to Bemidji Avenue. In addition to aging pavement and utilities, the agency has found the number of collisions on the corridor to be troubling.

Considering the safety issues, the agency initially proposed adding five roundabouts along the corridor. However, that idea was rejected by the Bemidji City Council in 2019 based on feedback from the community and businesses. Since that vote, MnDOT has worked with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission to re-engage with the public and come up with new designs.

In December 2021, the council was presented with several options and eventually ended up supporting a three-roundabout option with a 4-2 vote. This option would add three roundabouts to the highway, located at the Menard’s entrance, Middle School Drive and Hannah Avenue.

This was the preferred choice by both MnDOT and city staff, as well as a community review panel tasked with assessing the project.

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“Minnesota has the fourth highest number of roads in the country, and that means regular maintenance and repair to ensure safety and efficiency,” Walz said in a release. “I am grateful for this federal partnership and their decision to award funding to one of northern Minnesota’s critical roadways to provide the upgrades these communities deserve.

"Investment in infrastructure are investments in Minnesota’s safety, economy, and livability, and I’m looking forward to continuing to improve infrastructure across our state.”

The grant funds will go toward the reconstruction of Highway 197 from Hannah Avenue to Gillett Drive.

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The grant funds will go toward the reconstruction of Highway 197 from Hannah Avenue to Gillett Drive.

As this stretch sees around 15,000 vehicles per day, the project includes corridor improvements to address safety at three locations, maintain acceptable traffic operations and access to businesses, address aging infrastructure and construct non-motorized facilities along and across the corridor for users to reach their destinations, the release said.

The roadway will be reconstructed to include three roundabouts and create an urbanized cross-section with trails and lighting on both sides of the roadway.

The project will also involve reconstructing Hannah Avenue and Middle School Drive to add new sidewalk connections and two compact roundabouts.

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Plans for reconstructing Highway 197 include reconstructing Hannah Avenue and Middle School Drive to add new sidewalk connections and two compact roundabouts.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“Investments in our infrastructure serve as down payments on the long-term economic well-being of our state," Sen. Amy Klobuchar said about the funding award. "This federal funding will help make critical infrastructure improvements that will bolster the safety and mobility of one of Bemidji’s busiest routes, making it easier for Minnesotans to access work, school and other destinations.”

The total cost for the state and local roadways is estimated at $26 million, which the $18 million in grants will help cover.

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“Federal investments like this — made possible by the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — will help make our communities safer and more accessible,” MnDOT commissioner Nancy Daubenberger said in the release. “(It will) ensure Minnesota’s transportation system serves all people.”

Related stories
Representatives from the Headwaters Regional Development Commission and the Minnesota Department of Transportation presented new design ideas for the reconstruction of State Highway 197.

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