2019 Top 10 Stories: No. 8 — High-profile road projects squeezed into shortened construction season
A long winter, coupled with inclement weather throughout the year, squeezed a logjam of projects into a shortened construction season that saw a significant face-lift for a bevy of lakes area roads.
It’s the time-honored adage any Upper Midwesterner is likely to give when asked to describe what the weather’s like in their neck of the woods: There are two seasons here — winter and construction season.
Rarely was this more apparent than in central Minnesota in 2019, a year that saw frigid temperatures linger well into spring and heavy rainfall washing out the backend of summer, causing a slew of bottled-up construction projects that turned the Brainerd lakes area into a veritable migraine for motorists trying to navigate roadblocks, caution tape and orange cones.
Take your pick — or, as many drivers would probably suggest, ruefully, pick your poison — because a lot of change was enacted through the area’s asphalt arteries. Some projects were years or even decades in the making, like the Cypress Drive corridor project. Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said it was the goal of multiple councils to see the corridor built since 2005.
Opened in early August, the newly constructed $17 million road and roundabouts connects Cypress Drive north to Woida Road and then to Wise Road and south to Highland Scenic Drive, also known as County Highway 48. In doing so, the new roadway serves as a parallel corridor to Highway 371, particularly for local traffic versus people passing through the Baxter strip.
The lakes area also saw the addition of a multi-use tunnel underneath Highway 6, north of Crosby, in what officials say amounts to another step forward for the Cuyuna Range cities and their economic renaissance.
“I consider biking right now to be the economic driver — certainly for the foreseeable future,” Crosby Mayor Bob Novak said Sept. 16. “It’s making things happen along Main Street and they continue to happen, that’s the encouraging part. You go up and down the street and think about three years, what was there and what is there today, it’s just a tremendous change.”
Local businesses in downtown Little Falls felt the pinch when stretches of Highway 27 were closed for extensive reconstruction of 2 miles of Highway 27 between 15th Street Southwest and Ninth Street East, to install new underground city utilities, curb, gutter and sidewalk, improve signals and adjacent entrance connections.
Barricaded in with numerous orange traffic cones, it was a difficult proposition to get any number of shoppers to bypass the construction for nearly two months. Business owners used social media, special events and old-fashioned word of mouth to counteract the slump, but to little avail.
“I know it’s definitely affected me because people have said, ‘Oh, I tried to get to you, but I can’t get there,’ or they’ve called and asked how to get here — things like that — and just the lack of traffic,” said Mary Groth, owner of Spark! Nutrition Monday, Aug. 12, while alone in her store.
And then there was the reconstruction of Highway 210 between Ironton and Brainerd — a 12-mile stretch of roadway that cut off a major artery between Brainerd-Baxter and the Range cities and Aitkin, which entailed a winding detour that nearly doubled the original route.
"I make this journey between Crosby and Brainerd many a times," said Gay Gordon, a resident of Emily, during an open house for the project June 4. "That's a long way around. I don't like it. That's a lot of extra miles that way."
Visit https://bit.ly/2MIJ1l4 for the rest of the Brainerd Dispatch's 2019 Top 10 list.
GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .