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Hwy 10 project hits snags

Near Airport Road in Detroit Lakes, All traffic is switched to the eastbound lanes of Highway 10 while the westbound is reconstructed. The project is behind and schedule and is now estimated to be completed Aug. 22 instead of Aug. 3. PIPPI MAYFIELD/RECORD

The resurfacing project on Highway 10 between Detroit Lakes and Lake Park is about three weeks behind schedule, and that’s going to cause traffic delays during the big WE Fest country music festival Aug. 1-3.

The project started on May 13, as scheduled, and was supposed to wrap up by Saturday, Aug. 3, so all four lanes would be open when WE Fest ended and  people headed home Sunday on Highway 10 West.

Now the project isn’t expected to be done until Aug. 22, if the weather cooperates, according to MnDOT officials and the general contractor, Shafer Contracting Co. Inc. of Shafer, Minn.

The company faces a $3,000-per-day fine for failing to meet the Aug. 3 deadline, said Trudy Kordosky, resident engineer at MnDOT’s District 4 headquarters in Detroit Lakes. That means the contractor is looking at a fine of close to $60,000 or more.

But it could be worse. At a recent Becker County Board meeting, Commissioner Barry Nelson said he was told by Becker County Highway Engineer Jim Olson that the same contractor was facing fines of $10,000 a day for missing a deadline on an I-35 construction project south of Duluth.

He said Shafer Construction shifted resources to the I-35 project to avoid those steeper fines, choosing to let the Highway 10 project run late instead.

In an interview, Frank Weiss, president of Shafer Contracting Co., denied the allegations.

“No, no, no — not true,” he said. “We have one concrete paving crew. Because of the wet, cold spring and wet summer we’ve had — that’s the reason … All through the state, talking to other contractors, everybody is behind.”

Some of the MnDOT “quantities,” or estimates of construction material needed for the project, have come up short, he said. But mostly the delays are due to a late winter, cold spring and rainy summer, Weiss said.

On Thursday, he said the concrete paving work has been going well the past few days. “If we can keep the rain away, that will be good.” Subcontractors are ready to do shoulder work and drain tile work, he said.

MnDOT officials said they are disappointed that the Highway 10 project is running behind schedule, but contractors have the right to manage their projects as they see fit.

The 8.6-mile “unbonded overlay” project involves removing an asphalt overlay over the existing concrete base and replacing it with concrete pavement.

A “bond-breaker” asphalt layer is placed between the two concrete layers  “so cracks in the base don’t reflect up to the new concrete,” Weiss said.

The same technique was used in repaving Highway 10 between Hawley and Boyer Lake near Lake Park seven years ago, Kordosky said. And it is also used on interstate  construction projects.

“It should be a nice, very smooth road for residents up there,” Weiss said. “If we just have normal weather from here on out, we’ll be OK. The proof will be in the pudding, I guess.”

Nelson, in an interview, said in the future he’d like the county and other stakeholders to be involved in pre-construction meetings.

“I think that’s reasonable,” he said. “Let us be part of the planning process. The more eyes on a project, the better.”

The lack of access to the north side of Highway 10 between Lake Park and Audubon, for example, has been a hardship for people in that area, he said.

Also the construction barrels, turn lanes and signage on Highway 10 in Audubon “are really confusing,” he said. “A temporary stop light would have been good.”

The construction zone in Audubon was the site of a fatal accident several weeks ago.

Kordosky said emergency workers have contingency plans to reach any accident scene along the Highway 10 construction site.

The Highway 10 project involves a single lane of traffic each direction, with some left turn lanes.

“We want people to go where there’s a left turn provided,” Kordosky said.

Right turn lanes were not included because motorists don’t have to stop and wait for oncoming traffic before making a right turn, she said.

MnDOT has contracted with the State Patrol to provide extra enforcement on Highway 10 during WE Fest.

There’s a reason motorists should slow down and be extra watchful in a construction zone — some drivers get confused and do unsafe things. A DL Newspapers reporter recently saw a woman driving the wrong way in single-lane traffic on the Highway 10 East project.  Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic.

And it’s not unusual on the Highway 10 West project to see motorists stopping to turn left — even though there is no left turn lane, risking being hit from behind at high speeds.

County Road 6 runs roughly parallel to Highway 10 and is used by some to avoid the construction zone.

It is now seeing construction of its own — an asphalt resurfacing job that runs from County Road 1 west of the Cormorant area to County Road 15, which runs between Audubon and Lake Eunice.

Central Specialties of Alexandria is the main contractor. “We’re paving County Road 6 today,” co-owner Steve Minnerath said Thursday. “We’ll see how far we are,” before WE Fest starts.

County Road 6 will be down to one lane, with traffic taking turns, during the paving process, said Becker County Highway Department Construction Manager Brian Shephard.

But both lanes will be open during WE Fest, he said. Central Specialties has multiple contracts and “we have work in other parts of the county they can do,” he added.

The Sunday after WE Fest wouldn’t be a problem anyway, he said, since there is never road construction on Sundays on Becker County highways. That’s because the county  continues to stipulate no-Sunday-work in contracts, even though the state has dropped that provision, he said.

Paving work that started in Audubon Thursday means that one of the two main Highway 10 accesses will be closed, but the other will remain open.

County Road 13 will be closed short-term. Traffic will be re-directed to County Road 11 and Main Street for up to a week while the new concrete cures.

After County Road 13 reopens, the County Road 11 access will close for up to a week.

Don’t drive around the barricades: Concrete needs time to cure before it can handle traffic.

In Hawley, motorists on Highway 10 will re-gain access to County Road 31 and County Road 33 on Monday, weather permitting. Lane closures will continue through that area.

The speed limit in the construction zone is 40 mph.

All work in Hawley, which is undergoing a major realignment project, is expected to be done by the end of September, weather permitting.