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Highway 10 is now open

Crews reached a milestone in the Highway 10 project today when the new highway was opened to traffic.

Although all four lanes throughout the project will not be open until early August, Fourth of July travelers will be able to test out the new road, a goal of contractor Hoffman Construction.

First planned for June 28, the opening date was postponed because of some rain delays and because that date was a Saturday.

"The schedule was developed in March and it said the traffic switch date was June 28, and at that time I didn't even look to see that it was a Saturday," Hoffman Project Manager Chad Johnson explained. "And then we got further along, then I realized there's signal systems involved here -- can't do it on a Friday or Saturday."

"Nobody ever looked to see June 28 was a Saturday. So, everyone was saying June 28, June 28. As it got closer and closer, we looked and oh, it was a Saturday, we're not going to do that,'" Shiloh Wahl said with a laugh. Wahl serves as the construction project manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

He said it wasn't a problem for the opening date to be delayed a couple days. Mother Nature wasn't the most cooperative for the crews from time to time.

"Over the last couple months we've had some rain days that kind of pushed us out, Johnson said. "We lost out on a grand total of maybe four days of paving because of rain. It's just sort of an accordion or shockwave -- when the paver get pushed out, then everyone behind him gets pushed out."

Crews did work some Saturdays to make up for lost time.

"Our primary goal is to have everything switched by the Fourth. Every time we'd get a little bit of a delay, we'd reevaluate the schedule, ask ourselves 'can we still get it by the Fourth' and if yes, then there was really no need to work a Sunday or something," he said.

The original deadline was set for June 28 and later changed to June 30 was because of the signal systems involved in the project.

"Whenever you do a major traffic switch, or turn on a set of signals, there can be -- not saying there is -- minor glitches in the program that they need to adjust," Wahl said. "A big thing is that they like to watch traffic patterns and adjust the timing of the signals."

With this being a new highway, MnDOT doesn't necessarily know how people will use it to get from point A to point B, so there is a need for traffic monitoring to determine extending signals, looking at traffic movements, etc. It will be watched and studied for most of the summer to see how things will flow, Wahl said.

"Overall, this is a major traffic switch, a milestone of the project. There's a little bit of a learning curve there until people can figure out their new routes."

Although the new highway is open, there will still be lane closures along the way. Johnson said that as of today, there will be four lanes from McKinley Avenue to Kris Street. At Kris Street, there will be one lane each way because the railroad will be doing some work that affects the signal system, so there will be a stop sign there. Eastbound traffic will not have to stop, but westbound will, and traffic on Kris Street will stop.

"There's going to be a lot of traffic control devices at that intersection," Johnson said.

Wahl explained that the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is working on its quad four gate system.

Instead of treating the three crossings (Washington Avenue, Kris Street, County Road 54) as three separate crossings, the railroad is treating it as more of a corridor for an 80-mile per hour Amtrak.

A tower will be installed at Kris Street to know when a train is coming from 6,000 feet away -- which is over a mile. The parts for that system weren't in on time, so the railroad will be installing them now, which is why the signal system will not be operational at this point.

The turn-on date of those signals is the end of July, and then all lanes of traffic will be open there as well.

"I cannot speak for Kris Street, though. I can't speak for the railroad. I've been given approximate durations, but I can't speak for them. They should be done by then," Johnson said of the Aug. 6 opening date.

"At one point there was discussion to leave Kris Street closed (until the end of July), but the businesses in there, and with Fourth of July, with switching traffic onto Highway 10, there's no longer an access at Roosevelt (Avenue). We thought it just created a hardship there for those businesses, so the decision was to reopen it and just leave the signals off and open it as a stop sign condition to help the businesses out there," Wahl said.

Heading east from Kris Street, Highway 10 will open back to two lanes eastbound until the east side of the retaining wall, where it will go back to one lane where a temporary gap connecting new Highway 10 and old Highway 10 has been filled until it can be paved in a couple weeks. Coming from the east, the westbound lanes will be two lanes until Kris Street.

There will still be future lane closures throughout the project. That is until early August, when the highway is scheduled to be fully open.

Before then, paving in front of the Graystone and Washington Avenue will start around July 10, Johnson said. Then pavers will fill the gap in the highway by the retaining wall east of town. Either Washington Avenue or Lake Avenue south must be open at all times, so pavers will have to hop around and pave one area, let it cure and then hop back to pave the remaining area.

Another major change starting today is no more access from Roosevelt Avenue to Highway 10. McKinley Avenue, Jackson Avenue and Washington Avenue will be main accesses into downtown.

The frontage road construction will start when crews return to town after the holiday weekend. The frontage road will be accessible to all businesses, but it will no longer be used for through traffic.

Jackson Avenue, North Shore Drive, Corbett Road, McKinley Avenue and County Road 53 will allow access to Highway 10.

Johnson said there will be some grading at Corbett Road, which will be closed immediately -- it will likely only take a couple hours -- and then open back up as a gravel road.

This weekend will obviously bring extra traffic to the area, but MnDOT is happy to have the new route open for everyone to drive.

"Everybody have a safe Fourth of July," Wahl said.