MnDOT works to fix washout as Washington Street bridge remains closed: Residents face traffic headaches as storm threat continues
A washout complicates an already difficult travel situation amid multiple summer road construction projects in the city of Brainerd. Officials have worked to alleviate congestion, but it's unclear how long the westbound lanes of the Washington Street Bridge will remain closed as the Minnesota Department of Transportation works to fix the deep hole where the sidewalk once was. Meanwhile, more storms are in the forecast.
It was like a perfect summer storm Sunday night, when the domino effect from the torrential rainstorm caused a washout, which led to closure of a main thoroughfare in Brainerd.
This was on top of a road construction project starting Monday, July 15, limiting Mississippi River bridge crossings, adding more detours and headaches for people as they made their way around this lakes area city.
Motorists needed patience Monday when traveling on Washington Street in Brainerd as the rainstorm washed out the sidewalk and closed down a section of the westbound lanes of Washington Street, also known as Highway 210, next to the bridge and across from the Dairy Queen. The resulting hole was 14 feet deep and 25 feet wide, the Minnesota Department of Transportation reported.
The National Weather Service in Duluth reported 2-3 inches of rain fell in an hour’s time Sunday night. The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport reported 2.38 inches of rainfall and 3.23 inches was reported 3 miles northeast of Brainerd. Rain fell so hard in such a short time, it caused flash flooding in Brainerd and Baxter.
Authorities closed the westbound lanes of Washington Street Sunday night and the closure is expected to continue for a few days. The road closure caused major traffic congestion throughout the day Monday without a lot of options for detours with the Mississippi River cutting through Brainerd. During the noon hour, it took a Brainerd Dispatch reporter and photographer 45 minutes to get from Point A -- on Fifth Street South at the Brainerd High School -- to Point B on Fourth Street Northwest to get back onto Washington Street. The amount of time to get through this detour was improved as the day progressed, as reported by the city of Brainerd.
Construction also began Monday on College Drive -- closing down the College Drive Bridge -- leaving motorists only the Laurel Street Bridge to cross the Mississippi River in downtown Brainerd.
A second river crossing was opened later Monday, however.
Brainerd City Engineer Paul Sandy said the city of Brainerd reopened one lane in each direction on College Drive between South Fifth Street and Crow Wing County Highway 48 to alleviate traffic crossing the Mississippi River on Laurel Street. Sandy encourages motorists to drive with caution when using the one lane to cross College Drive Bridge between Kiwanis Park and Central Lakes College, as construction workers will continue their work. Sandy said the College Drive mill and overlay project is expected to be complete in about a week.
Jenny Seelen, Minnesota Department of Transportation communication specialist, said other options for motorists include the Mill Avenue bridge in northeast Brainerd to cross the river. When using this route, motorists take Mill Avenue to Wise Road and then to Riverside Drive to go to west Brainerd or continue on Wise Road, also knowns as County Highway 49, to get to Baxter. Motorists also may go south on South Sixth Street and take Business Highway 371 to Highway 371, going north to Baxter to get to west Brainerd.
Eastbound Washington Street is reduced to one lane between Fourth Street North and Fourth Street Northwest to allow crews access to the work area where the washout occurred. Pedestrians are asked to use the eastbound sidewalk along Washington. The westbound sidewalk is closed at the bridge.
Seelen said MnDOT is working to formulate a temporary emergency repair plan for the washout on the bridge
“The storm sewer catch basin was corroded and disconnected, plus the record rain levels in such a short time frame was the cause for the washout near the westbound bridge approach," Seelen stated in an email. “They will have to reinstall the storm sewer infrastructure. The Mississippi bridge structure has been inspected by engineers and is okay. MnDOT maintenance crews are filling in the hole. They will quit at dark (on Monday). Compaction will be next.
“Tomorrow they will inspect all the pipes leading to the catch basin to ensure no breaks or obstructions are present in the drainage system. Utility locates are also being done.”
MnDOT expects the portion of Washington Street to remain closed in the westbound lanes for a few days, opening one lane as soon as possible.
MnDOT reminded the public to stay out of the closed barricaded area and to watch for heavy equipment and workers.
“Be patient and expect long delays on Highway 210, especially on westbound,” MnDOT stated in a news release. “Do not block off signalized intersections, it will lessen traffic flow and extend backups.
“MnDOT and the city of Brainerd thanks you for your continued patience.”
Sandy asks motorists to follow the detour sign routes, and not side streets to avoid the detour. He said motorists will not get to their destination any sooner by using side streets. Sandy said he observed several vehicles on side streets trying to cross Highway 210 with the heavy traffic. It took them a long time to get across the highway and it isn’t the safest way to travel, he said.
Sandy said the city is trying to find temporary signal lights at the four-way stop intersections to help with traffic and to relieve the law enforcement officers who have been providing traffic control at the three stop sign intersections.
Lt. Chad Kleffman of the Brainerd Police Department said they scheduled eight officers on rotating shifts to offer traffic control, with help from the Baxter Police Department and the Minnesota State Patrol.
“It’s been a hectic day,” Kleffman said. “We called in more of our officers who were not on shift and our community service officers to help us with traffic control. We’re doing the best we can.”
Kleffman said people have been kind and have offered the officers water and food as they worked.
For more information on the closure status of Highway 210, go to www.511mn.org .
Meteorologist Joseph Moore with the National Weather Service of Duluth said the type of rainfall Brainerd experienced Sunday night is one that would typically occur once every 10 years. He said most of the 2-3 inches of rain fell in a one-hour period and was intense.
Moore said the NWS received a few reports of funnels in Cass County Monday, but none of the funnels developed into a tornado. Moore encourages weather spotters to report their rainfall totals and any storm damage that occurs.
The NWS issued a severe thunderstorm watch from 1:45-10 p.m. Monday in Crow Wing, Aitkin and Cass counties, although the watch was canceled in the early evening. A 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly before 10 p.m. Monday was expected in Brainerd, with some storms having a possibility to be severe, with large hail and damaging winds.
Thunderstorms may continue much of the upcoming week, with a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms expected after 3 p.m Tuesday in Brainerd, along with partly sunny skies and a forecast high near 85 degrees. The chance of showers increases to 40% Tuesday mainly after midnight, with an expected low around 68. Another chance of rain is expected Wednesday possibly after 9 a.m. with a 70% chance of precipitation; and a 50% chance Wednesday night. On its hazardous weather outlook, the weather service stated Wednesday represents the best chance for strong to severe thunderstorms with the potential for large hail, damaging winds and frequent lightning. Flash flooding will also be possible Wednesday.
Conditions are expected to remain warm and muggy throughout the week, Moore said.