MnDOT says northwest Minnesota will see $33 million in construction

Road and bridge construction totaling $441 million faces Minnesota drivers this summer, including $33 million in projects in northwest Minnesota. "It's one of our larger programs in some time," Lynn Eaton, state Department of Transportation Distr...

Road and bridge construction totaling $441 million faces Minnesota drivers this summer, including $33 million in projects in northwest Minnesota.

"It's one of our larger programs in some time," Lynn Eaton, state Department of Transportation District 2 engineer in Bemidji, said Thursday of northwest Minnesota projects at a Bemidji Regional Airport news conference.

The two dozen projects include the $4.5 million reconstruction of Bemidji Avenue -- state Highway 197 -- from Third Street to 23rd Street, which is slated to begin April 21.

The most work, however, is in the Park Rapids area where MnDOT continues with state Highway 34 construction, at $11.3 million, and several smaller projects in that area.

Following the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis in August, the beleaguered MnDOT has been subject of legislative review and saw the Minnesota Senate fail to confirm Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau as transportation commissioner, a post she'd held when first appointed in 2003 by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.


"MnDOT is motivated and ready to deliver the projects," MnDOT Deputy Commissioner Lisa Freese said at the news conference. "There's an optimism among the staff, an excitement, to be able to move forward with this new funding and show the residents and the businesses in the state of Minnesota that we're ready to do a great job with it, and deliver a cost-effective product."

The Legislature in February overrode Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a $6.7 billion transportation funding package that raises the state's gas tax a nickel a gallon this year, and up to 8.5 cents over the next few years.

That new money will enable MnDOT to accelerate some projects by a few years, including a $12.66 million state Highway 11 project from Frontier to Indus, Freese said. It will be moved up to 2010 and includes repair and widening of shoulders, and replacing culverts.

"We're looking forward to another solid construction season," Freese said. "This year's projects follow up upon three years of our largest road construction seasons in the history of the state."

Work this summer will include a number of road and bridge projects, increased maintenance on state roads, enhancing transit throughout the state, and starting new congestion relief projects in the metro area, she said.

The 2008 construction program plus accelerated projects for 2008, 2009 and 2010 total $640 million of which $326 million are metro-area projects. With $441 million for 136 new projects for the 2008 construction season, $231 million of it involves metro-area projects, said Tim Henkel, MnDOT director of planning, modal and data management.

The summer program includes major projects in Bemidji and Park Rapids, Eaton said.

Ulland Bros. of Cloquet is the contractor for the Highway 197 project in Bemidji, Eaton said, with a summer-long detour of traffic away from Bemidji Avenue to Irvine Avenue.


"Some of the local residents can already see the construction equipment is already mobilized to Bemidji, doing that before the spring weight restrictions went on," he said. "That contractor has several innovative features built into his contract to accelerate the project."

The contract was let not only on lowest responsible bidder but also bidding on time to be done, Eaton said. "That contractor intends to have the work done by the first week in August."

Work starts April 21 in the Paul Bunyan and Babe statue area up to Sixth Street, he said, hoping to complete that segment by June 1. As a result, construction should totally be moved north before community events such as the July 4 Jaycees Water Carnival at the lakefront.

"The Water Carnival will not be impacted by this project," he said. "But all summer there will be detours of all the traffic from 197 around this work, primarily on Irvine Avenue most all of the time. We're encouraging local residents to think about alternative ways to get to work, especially if they work on the west side of town and live on the east side of town, like I do."

Putting four lanes of Bemidji Avenue traffic onto two lanes of Irvine Avenue won't be easy, Eaton admits. "Everyone has to be a little bit patient and watch for pedestrians."

Weekly meetings will be held for downtown businesses at the MnDOT District Headquarters to discuss progress on the project and hear concerns, he said.

A number of projects in the Park Rapids area include:

E Highway 34, west city limits to the junction of Hubbard County Road 4 in Park Rapids, reconstruction, $11.3 million.


E Highway 71, north of Park Rapids to south of Highway 200 junction, resurface 19.5 miles, $600,000.

E Highway 71, junction of Highway 87 south of Park Rapids, lighted intersection, turn lanes, $225,000.

E Highway 34, east junction of Highway 64 to Highway 371 in Walker, resurface, add turn lanes, replace culverts, $2.38 million.

E Highway 200, half mile east of Highway 64 to Highway 371 north of Walker, resurface, $1.7 million.

E Highway 71, west Lake George to a third mile west of Kabekona and Highway 200 from 0.4 miles east of junction of Highway 64, resurface and repair culvert, $1.66 million.

"We've got a lot of work going on in kind of a circular area in the Park Rapids, Lake George, Walker and back to Park Rapids area," Eaton said. "There are several overlays on 34 and 200 and 71, and taking care of some of the rougher roads in that circle."

More projects are planned for Highway 34 in the coming years, he said. There will be five days' worth of work in Walker with that happening after Labor Day.

Work on Highway 34 in Park Rapids is a carry-over project from last year, he said, with 2008 district construction including $29 million in new projects and the $4 million carry-over in Park Rapids.

"Last year we focused efforts from Highway 71 to the west limits of Park Rapids," Eaton said. "This year the work is going to be focused on 71 east to County Road 4. We should be done with that work fairly early in the season, according to the contractor. Hopefully the Fourth of July there is going to be a much more convenient celebration for the folks than it was last year."

Other 2008 work includes Highway 11 between Baudette and International Falls. This year will see a widening from Frontier plus an overlay. "With six projects, we want to get 11 up to a full-time 10-ton (route), which we've carried as a risk section for quite some time."

Also, Highway 223 will see resurfacing from Highway 92 to Leonard, costing $657,000. A number if District 2 projects are near the North Dakota border, as well as a major interchange project in District 4 at Moorhead and completion of Highway 10 work at Detroit Lakes.

"MnDOT has worked diligently to determine how to efficiently and effectively deliver the transportation funding that has been outlined in the new law that was passed this year and we have planned valuable construction work to help boost the economy and rebuild the transportation systems in all parts of the state," Freese said.

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