Signs of the times
A portion of Laurel Street is closed near the Crow Wing County Courthouse in Brainerd.Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist Traffic. It's not something that disappears after Labor Day weekend anymore. Part of the equation is the region's grow...
A portion of Laurel Street is closed near the Crow Wing County Courthouse in Brainerd.Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
It's not something that disappears after Labor Day weekend anymore.
Part of the equation is the region's growth as a retail center, which pulls more shoppers to Brainerd and Baxter. Part of it is the increase in the lakes area population. More people. More vehicles.
Whenever a construction project displaces drivers from their routine traffic patterns, congestion becomes more noticeable for some. Part of the driving force behind multiple projects is climate. Road construction is typically limited to the months between April and November.
"We have a very short construction season in Minnesota -- that's just the reality of the situation," said Cathy Clark, Minnesota Department of Transportation public affairs coordinator based in Baxter.
Traffic from Oak Street is being detoured onto Highway 25 to the Highways 18 and 25 intersection.Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
Clark said construction contracts have provisions to avoid peak holiday weekends and to minimize the disruption to the traveling public and keep road crews safe.
"We are real conscious of the expectations of the public to get where they are going," Clark said. "You try to balance that with the construction season and everything in our business is weather permitting so it is a delicate balance."
In Brainerd, the Laurel Street road construction project was delayed an entire season so drivers would have an alternate travel route during the Highway 210 reconstruction. The project was slated to begin this spring, but Crow Wing County's master building plan caused a design change.
On-street parking from East River Road to Fourth Street in front of the courthouse was removed from the plan as county officials deemed adequate parking would be nearby with new lots in the works. An underground tunnel was added beneath the road to allow pipes for the building construction without digging up Laurel again.
By the time state and federal plan reviews were complete, construction began in August. The road project runs from East River Road to South Sixth Street. Phase one, between East River Road and Third Street South near the Crow Wing County Courthouse, has left room to allow access to the Law Enforcement Center. The county opened a temporary Front Street roadway a block away, which was closed for construction of the Judicial Center, to ease congestion.
Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
The road, with its first layer of blacktop, is expected to be completed this fall and could include the entire block up to Fourth Street South. Everything depends on weather. The plan is to open the road to traffic for the winter. The second phase of the project, which extends to South Sixth Street in front of Brained City Hall, will begin next season.
Gary Dirlam, MnDOT District 3 traffic engineer, said the flow of traffic from side streets acts as friction for the traffic flow on Washington Street. One answer in the future may be to limit people who attempt to make left-hand turns onto the highway without going to signal light intersections.
Dirlam said the highway traffic will be more fluid as more side street traffic is restricted to intersections. In Brainerd, the Mississippi River adds to the bottleneck as drivers are forced to funnel to a bridge.
"The river does complicate the opportunities for traffic to move east and west and that is just something we are going to have to work with and any other bridge is going to be very expensive," Dirlam said. "I think we have to make the best use of everything we have and there are improvements that can be made on those corridors."
Dirlam said it's a long-term process that won't happen overnight and will need to include government and the public to help the whole community flourish.
"As the area grows we will do everything we can to move traffic through town and around town but congestion is going to increase because there is no way around it."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.