Anglers traveling to the Brainerd lakes area for the fishing opener this weekend will have more to contend with than snared fishing lines or frustrating attempts at getting the boat motor started.
Bits of broken glass appear like puddles in various locations around the detoured intersection of Highways 210 and 371 North. The vehicle carnage was left behind after dozens of car accidents -- many of which were minor fender benders -- that have occurred in the road construction zone since the end of March.
Minnesota Department of Transportation has created a temporary intersection there in order to reconstruct that section of road that will become part of the Brainerd bypass. The Highway 371 bypass, when completed this fall, will bypass the city of Brainerd and send motorists to this historic intersection in Baxter. The two-lane highway south of Brainerd, which is the entrance to the bypass, is also detoured with lane changes, requiring motorists to snake slowly around orange poles. This morning, traffic was stop and go south of Brainerd as motorists were flagged down by construction workers.
Once the bypass is completed this fall, the project will save anxious motorists a half-hour in drive time to their cabins or vacation destinations, transportation officials said.
That's the good news. The bad news is that throughout the summer, tourists are stuck weaving through the orange cones and detours. There have been so many car accidents occurring at the 210/371 intersection in Baxter it's enough to make the great Paul Bunyan, perched nearby for decades, stand up and shake his head.
"Drive real slow and watch the car ahead of you," warned Baxter Police Captain Dale Walz. Baxter police have been responding to about 1-4 car accidents each day in the construction zone. Most accidents involve cars rear-ending other vehicles that are making left turns. The majority of accidents are happening on the weekends. Walz said the city has been working with MnDOT to make the intersection more safe, but ultimately it's up to drivers to be more careful.
Lt. Dave Zumberge of the State Patrol in Baxter said today that most injury accidents are happening south of Brainerd because speeds are higher there. Most accidents in the road construction zone in Baxter are causing vehicle damage.
"This weekend there are going to be some congestion problems," said Zumberge, of traffic in the road construction zones. "But if we want new highways, we have to put up with it."
Baxter police and the State Patrol have stepped up patrols in the road construction areas. Speeders can expect to pay double fines for speeding in the construction zones. For example, driving 1-10 miles over the posted speed limit in the construction zone will cost you $136; driving 11-14 miles over the limit will cost you $156; and 15-20 miles over the limit will cost $196; while 26-30 miles over the speed limit mandates a $256 fine.
"We're not writing tickets to pick on people," explained Walz. "We just want to make sure people don't get hurt."
MnDOT spokesperson Mike Travis said workers won't likely be out working on Highway 371 Friday as a safety precaution, or will only work until noon because of the increased traffic.
Road construction is also being done at the Highway 371/County Road 18 intersection in downtown Nisswa. Construction is expected to resume Monday along a 30-mile segment of Highway 84 between Pine River and the junction of Highway 200 north of Longville in Cass County.
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