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Our Opinion: Drive with care on Highway 371

Anyone driving on Highway 371 between Nisswa and Pequot Lakes in the past month has noticed the rapidly changing landscape in preparation for a four-lane highway.

Anyone driving on Highway 371 between Nisswa and Pequot Lakes in the past month has noticed the rapidly changing landscape in preparation for a four-lane highway.

It's brighter-even on a gray day or at night-and it's more expansive. We see houses we never knew existed. East Twin Lake is as visible now as West Twin Lake has always been.

Countless numbers of trees have been plucked from the ground and lay in neat stacks side by side. Huge mounds of wood chips are dotted along parts of the highway. Massive machines are seen chugging along every day, cutting those lumbering trees in a split second and setting them down, feeding the trees into wood chippers, grinding the tree stumps, and more.

We see it every day as we drive through, and yet we still can't help but take our eyes off the road and stare. Those houses don't have a tree left in their backyards (all trees being taken down are in the Minnesota Department of Transportation right-of-way). East Twin Lake was always just a name, but we never could see it through the trees. The Paul Bunyan Trail looks like an unprotected, exposed snake slithering along with nowhere to take cover.

We've known for years that the four-lane highway expansion was coming. We're smart enough to know that you can't expand a road from two lanes to four without tree loss.

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But it's still hard to see the landscape changing daily.

When the project wraps up in late 2017, and then not too many years down the road, this will be the new normal. We'll get used to it, and we'll appreciate the safety aspects. We'll certainly enjoy not getting stuck in long lines of traffic on summer Friday and Sunday evenings.

In the meantime, give the working crews your full attention. Officials with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) are urging motorists to stop gawking. We don't want an accident to happen, especially when a major point of this whole project is increased safety while traveling.

"We know people are interested, but they have to be aware. We have had some close calls, so for everyone's safety they have to concentrate on driving," said Tony Hughes, Highway 371 project manager with MnDOT.

J.P. Gillach, MnDOT communications and public affairs for District 3, said work zones are ever-changing and require one's full attention to navigate. "We don't want anyone getting hurt, and we do what we can to operate as safely as possible," he said.

Keep your eyes on the road. Let the crews and their machines work without having to worry about being hit by a vehicle. Watch for slow-moving equipment entering or exiting work areas.

Work will go on for nearly the next two years, so we must get used to it and drive with extra care for all involved.

Related Topics: NISSWAPEQUOT LAKES
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