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Letter: Looking back on 3 major road projects in one season

In Minnesota, there is winter and construction season. For Becker County, MNDOT unveiled plans for three projects in one summer (actually three seasons). For you hockey fans, that's a hat trick.

Why three projects in a short time period? It could be planning projects simply coming together. Or, one may believe it was planned to determine what and how drivers would cope, become frustrated, or simply erupt after prolonged road construction on Highway 59 and Highway l0.

In fairness, all projects involved Highway 59. And, one project was a continuation of project started in Detroit Lakes and concluding north of Callaway.

However, projects were on a 50-mile stretch of highway involving a major intersection of Highway 59 and Highway 10. And, the second project was a roundabout connecting an extremely busy Melissa-Sallie lake access and summer entertainment center.

This is a busy truck route. These projects would disrupt traffic for the summer. With numerous barrels, pylons, flashing lights, construction vehicles, they would challenge skilled drivers, senior citizens, and visitors, who faced many changes in the construction area. One must ask, "How much stress could the drivers deal with and how long?

Three projects began in early summer. A new project, the roundabout on Highway 59 and County Road 22, started with a detour that changed intersections with stop signs and canceled access to west and east County Road 22.

It made for difficult entry to a popular golf course and flea market attracting large crowds of summer residents and visitors (an ever popular Fourth of July area). Truck traffic was rerouted first using temporary lanes. Early road work, by construction crews, led to cutting a Centurylink cable terminating telephone and internet service for thousands (one estimate 35,000) of residential and commercial customers. It took a month to resume service for all customers.

Other hazards occurred for County Road 22 drivers, who had a short detour, however the turn off Highway 59 to County Road 17 was an deteriorated asphalt road with visibility to the south County Road 17 blocked by very tall weeds.

A stop sign was present, but many did not stop, causing near misses. (Weeds were cut and the block-long road was recovered one week before the entire roundabout was completed.) Flea market traffic intensified the problems, with parking being difficult for many. Traffic on Highway 59 coming south faced lines of 15-20 cars and trucks. We observed pickup trucks attempting to pass waiting cars and nearly creating "close calls" with opposing traffic.

With all these problems, construction crews finished the project before the "WE Fest" major entertainment event. It brought 30,000-45,000 persons down south Highway 59 and north through the roundabout to the campgrounds. It interesting to note, the west exit lane (from north 59) was opened last. Where do all these drivers live? Lake Melissa. (They must not count).

Other drivers faced a new challenge­—replacement of the bridge on Highway l0 and road work at the junction with Highway 59. Starting in early summer, it was not completed until late fall.

Replacing the two south bridge lanes of Highway 10 over the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks began in early summer. It was a "mess" from the beginning. Traffic was blocked for miles in either direction and local folks did not enter "orange barrel hell" unless no other alternatives were available.

The lineup for making a turn from Highway 59 to Highway 10 (and Highway 10 to Highway 59) occurred frequently, and simply doing a continuation on either Highway 10 or Highway 59 took time and patience. Very rough road surface, in the intersection, bounced the car and passengers. Temporary traffic lights did not speed up the movement and cars were backed up for a half mile in either direction. It was wait, wait, and wait your turn. There were many confused drivers. Signs told the drivers that work would be completed on Sept. 13 (2017) and it didn't happen until? What was the cost of this project?

The last project was the continuation of resurfacing of Highway 59 from Callaway to north of Mahnomen (Winger). It was long overdue. First step was to replace the culverts and it required stopping traffic, doing the work, and replacing asphalt with gravel.

Well, one time period had some 30 gravel sections on the road with 25 mph speed restrictions. This lasted for some two to three weeks before the temporary surface was completed. The dance included gravel trucks having priority, waiting cars, and cars going in the opposite direction.

Anxious drivers (who could not wait in line) and speeding trucks required other drivers to slow down and watch for holes and rocks. One question often heard was why go to Shooting Star Casino? Going and coming back was a trial for many drivers. It is finally finished. The casino had a celebration.

Summer has passed. Drivers returned to their driving patterns. Was anything learned from three road projects in one prolonged summer-fall? One positive outcome—no accidents were reported? Was the experiment a success?—Jim Larson, rural Detroit Lakes

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