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Traffic moved Wednesday past lines of orange safety barrels along Highway 371 in

371 project faces hit from potential state shutdown

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News Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd Dispatch
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Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

The Highway 371 project is ahead of schedule, but a state government shutdown could change that.

The $8.4 million road improvement project between Baxter and Nisswa was scheduled for an Aug. 31 completion date. Anderson Brothers Construction of Brainerd, the primary contractor for the project, was on track to have paving completed between July 4-8. Now Anderson Brothers and other contractors across the state are advised to plan for an eight-week shutdown. 

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“With the state talking about shutting down, that is going to impact our schedule because we won’t be able to do any work out there at all,” said Mike Niemi, Anderson Brothers project manager. “That will greatly impact our project and our company as a whole.”

Next week, instead of moving forward with the road construction, efforts will be on wrapping things up for the traveling public. So — just in case the shutdown happens on July 1 — road projects will be ready to sit idle for an indefinite period of time. How big of an impact depends on how long the potential shutdown lasts.

 If the days add up, contractors from a variety of projects have told the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the shutdown may lead to layoffs. 

For Anderson Brothers, there may be other county projects to work on, but any that have state involvement become a problem. Without state inspectors to authorize work at the job sites, contractors could not expect to complete work and get paid for it. 

At MnDOT about 10 people are working on the Highway 371 project. Wednesday marked a flurry of meetings MnDOT planned for a possible shutdown.

Paul Konickson, MnDOT project engineer, said there are many unknowns. Contractors have asked if they will be held to completion dates and possible penalties if deadlines can’t be met with lost work days. Konickson said it’s one of a number of questions they can’t answer yet as much is still up in the air. 

The shutdown comes with added cost. Temporary striping used for the road construction for the Highway 371 project will be replaced with a heavier, more permanent striping so it will last longer without maintenance. Konickson said he couldn’t say exactly how much that will add to the project’s cost. Three center turn lanes north of Nisswa — at Roy Lake Road, County Highway 29 and County Road 168 — won’t be started. 

The turn lanes are the biggest delay so far as work would have started on those projects without the specter of the shutdown. Anderson Brothers put a lot of resources into the project to get it done to beat the summer rush.  

Crews began resurfacing the highway — from just south of Highway 210 in Baxter to Nisswa on May 9. 

This project also includes constructing shoulders and turn lanes, upgrading traffic signals and closing median crossovers. 

To be most efficient and avoid summer traffic, night work on the project in Baxter was set up to run from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily with no construction on weekends.

Even a rain-soaked spring and early summer hasn’t delayed the project, until recent days. 

“We’ve been pretty fortunate,” Niemi said. “It’s rained on the weekends and not during the week.”

The Highway 371 contract allowed Anderson Brothers to bring back a full complement of workers this spring. Subcontractors have also been busy with work. Crow Wing County previously stated there may be county projects . 

Niemi said it’s the unknown that puts everything in limbo. 

“We can’t really go anywhere because we don’t know how long the shutdown is going to last,” Niemi said. “With the uncertainty of that, it’s tough to make a decision on what we can or can’t do.”

Highway 371 is a highly visible project, but the proposed shutdown will cover a lot of ground. Judy Jacobs, MnDOT communications specialist, said a shutdown means permits MnDOT issued for events on state highways are no longer in effect after July 1 whether that’s a Fourth of July parade or volunteers who pick up and bag litter. 

Niemi said: “It’s going to affect a lot more people than just road construction.”

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5852.

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