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OTHER OPINION:Patience and persistence

Bids will soon be opened for the biggest Central Minnesota road expansion project in several years — and one that’s been in the works for at least a decade: the expansion of 8 miles of Minnesota Highway 23 to four lanes between Foley and just east of St. Cloud.

The project brings to mind two words: Patience and persistence.

Yes, those words certainly apply to drivers of this busy stretch of road starting in June and lasting through 2012. Driving extra-cautiously is a must during this $36 million project.

More so, though, patience and persistence apply to the transportation planners who have championed this expansion since at least 2001. It is their efforts Central Minnesotans should appreciate because without them this project might have been delayed even longer.

You see, a long record of fatal and serious-injury crashes along this stretch spurred plans for the four-lane expansion in the early 2000s. In fact, by 2003 the Minnesota Department of Transportation had scheduled the project beginning in 2007.

However, funding challenges, other maintenance efforts and even changing transportation priorities across the state sparked delay after delay. Finally, MnDOT was able to program for it starting in June and using 2012 federal and state funds (Fiscal 2012 starts July 1).

Claudia Dumont, MnDOT’s pre-construction manager for project, confirmed the project is the biggest expansion of a St. Cloud-area road since Highway 23 went to four lanes heading west past Richmond.

Like that stretch, the St. Cloud-to-Foley portion is heavily traveled, and it is expected to gain more traffic. MnDOT figures show more than 7,300 vehicles use it each day, a figure expected to hit 14,000 by 2030.

The project is big. In adding two more lanes and several turn lanes, construction crews will build a bridge over the Elk River and improve these intersections: 65th Avenue, Benton County Road 25, 85th Avenue/County Road 83, and County roads 61, 62 and 4.

Foley also will see major construction, including building a stormwater pond, reconstructing a frontage road, and working on curbs, gutters, sewers and water utilities.

The project is expected to create only minor delays this year, with more slowdowns and detours set for the 2012 work.

Thus it’s all about patience and persistence. You will need them the next few years. Remember, though, without them, this road would be a lot worse for a lot longer period of time.