The summer of 2003 may be known for two words -- road work.
The old joke is that Minnesota has two seasons, winter and road construction, may never have been more true in the lakes area.
People with regular driving patterns on West Washington Street, Highway 210, James Street, Charles Street, Golf Course Road, Northwest Fourth Street, Excelsior and Jackson streets and associated side streets will likely all be in for a challenge next summer. In addition, there are scheduled construction projects on Laurel Street and Riverside Drive.
Travelers on Highway 210, also known as Washington Street in Brainerd, will be down to two lanes during construction phases and no left hand turns will be allowed in specific sections where westbound drivers would have previously used turn lanes to move on side streets to the south.
The Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce hosted a meeting between the area business community and Minnesota Department of Transportation project engineers Tuesday morning. MnDOT engineers outlined preliminary plans for a major road construction project on Highway 210 that will include the busy Northwest Fourth Street intersection and run west to include the overpass bridge near Super One in Baxter. The bridge will be removed and the grade, which created a hill as drivers enter Brainerd from the west, will be lowered about 15 feet.
"So the view as you come into Brainerd is going to change quite a bit," said Tony Hughes, MnDOT project engineer. The fill will be hauled away and used later in the Highway 371 construction project south of Brainerd. MnDOT reported an aggressive construction schedule calls for four lanes to be open on Highway 210 west of Baxter Drive by June 30.
Bob Sullivan, Wendy's restaurant owner, said he was not aware of the meeting Tuesday, but he previously spoke to Lisa Paxton, Brainerd chamber chief executive officer, about his concerns.
From previous experience in other communities, Sullivan said the restaurant business can expect a 30 percent to 50 percent loss of business. Sullivan said the result is a loss of employment as businesses cut back. And there are other considerations with the project beside the traffic loss. Sullivan said road construction in Superior, Wis., meant he could not open a restaurant for two days when the water was shut off.
"Until you've been through that you don't realize," Sullivan said. Half of Wendy's business is from drive-thru traffic.
In a project in Fargo, N.D., Sullivan said a construction schedule was communicated regularly to businesses. "It made a tough situation very nice," Sullivan said.
"The work has to be done, it's just a matter of minimizing the impact. We can do that if communications are left open."
Plans are in progress to educate drivers on alternative roads as anyone who has traveled Washington Street on a Friday in mid-summer can imagine the congestion as the four lanes are reduced to two. Traffic is expected to be rerouted to streets parallel to Highway 210 -- James Street on the north and Charles Street to the south.
Vehicles will be encouraged to go to the signal intersections, which is something drivers who have any interest in making a left onto Highway 210 in a reasonable amount of time already do. About 28,000 vehicles travel on Highway 210 through Baxter and Brainerd on a daily basis.
Feeder routes already busy with residents seeking to avoid Washington Street will have company with diverted traffic. And MnDOT is aware of the damage of rerouting too much traffic as those vehicles are the economic life blood of businesses along the corridor, particularly fast-food restaurants and gas stations.
Lisa Paxton, chamber chief executive officer, said she was concerned about congestion from the daily work commute traffic as more vehicles are sent to the Northwest Fourth intersection.
"This intersection, I think, is congested right now," Paxton said.
MnDOT engineers said local traffic is expected to move to Excelsior/Jackson streets, which is the same street that runs by the Brainerd Area Civic Center and Super One but changes names as the road moves from Brainerd into Baxter. Paxton said Excelsior/Jackson streets are already busy. MnDOT estimates there are 8,000 vehicles per day on Excelsior/Jackson streets.
Another 11,000 vehicles are estimated daily on Laurel Street, which also is scheduled for a major reconstruction beginning after July Fourth and will make going to the Crow Wing County Courthouse, Brainerd City Hall or the Brainerd Post Office a greater challenge.
"It's going to be a painful summer," said Dan Vogt, Brainerd city administrator. But Vogt said the pain of one season is weighed against doing such projects during several summer seasons.
John Newhouse, Lakeland Mold Co. president and Brainerd/Baxter Business Council chairman, urged MnDOT to retain flexibility to respond to bottlenecks as the construction project progresses. Other suggestions from the business representatives included temporary signal lights for the Golf Course Road and Excelsior Street intersection, as well as the Jackson Street and Northwest Fourth Street intersection.
Hughes said there is a general outline for the project, but the particulars will not be final until a contractor is selected through the bid process in December. The contractor may change stages or timelines within the project parameters MnDOT developed. Financial incentives from $25,000 for one deadline up to $50,000 for another are there to encourage contractors to complete projects ahead of schedule and there are penalties for each day a contractor lags beyond the schedule.
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