MnDOT answers questions about Hwy. 34 project
Selective logging to begin after Nov. 1
Changes are coming to the Lake Country Scenic Byway.
“MnDOT is moving forward with the resurfacing project and tree and vegetation removals within the clear zone 65 feet either side of the highway centerline within the state highway right of way,” project manager Joeb Oyster said.
The purpose of a clear zone is to improve visibility and safety for drivers on the 21 mile stretch between Becker County Road 29 to west of Osage at County 26/47 (old State Hwy. 225).
According to the latest information, the projected cost has increased from the initial estimate of $8.9 million to approximately $13 million. The project will be paid for by a combination of federal and state funds.
MnDOT is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to complete selective logging within the state right of way on the south side of Highway 34 from west of Snellman to the Shell River.
“The final plans for bidding were completed in May and required to be turned in in June,” Oyster said. “The (bid) letting date is set for September. We are still discussing final details of the seven miles of selective harvesting for shade tree removals, and listening to the public’s concerns about that work. We are doing our best to balance the needs between safety, environment and budget.”
This work will take place on the state highway right of way. More information about this part of the project is available at MnDOT's Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management Plan .
Tree removal compromise
Due to comments received during public meetings about the project, MnDOT has reduced tree removals.
“MnDOT’s original plans were to remove 85% of shade trees within the seven-mile stretch,” Oyster said. “Hearing the concerns from the public, MnDOT has reduced the removals to 50% of the trees within that section.”
Selective logging will occur on less than five miles, as areas of wetlands and private property are not logged. Selective logging is planned for less than 12% of project lane miles and less than 4% of scenic byway lane miles.
“The seven-mile section will not be treeless,” Oyster said. “We will be selectively harvesting 50% of the shade trees in this area, up to 150 feet from the centerline, but the forest will still be intact within the right of way and also beyond the right of way.”
“The Hwy 34 project includes federal funding, which requires MnDOT to go through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process,” Oyster said. “Forest sustainability, wildlife needs, and aesthetics were among our considerations.
“We have had many discussions with our partners and forestry experts over the years on how to best address dying and diseased trees along the corridor, focusing on specific tree removals. It is recognized that one way to preserve the beauty of the landscape is to properly maintain it. In addition, low-impact equipment will be used for the tree removals to minimize impacts to the surrounding vegetation.”
Communication and reviews were done by MnDOT’s Office of Environmental Stewardship, other state agencies, as well as federal agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
Project benefits and timeline
Benefits of the project highlighted by MnDOT include improved highway safety, a smoother, longer-lasting pavement surface, bridge work, culvert replacements and reduced chloride (salt) use during winter months, as fewer trees mean a higher road temperature and easier melting.
Evidence also suggests that moving the tree line further away from the road may reduce deer collisions.
Oyster said tree removals must take place between Nov. 1 and March 31, per state statute.
“Once we have a contractor on board, we’ll have a better idea of a schedule,” Oyster said. “There may be lane closures during logging, but traffic impacts should be minimal.”
Road resurfacing is planned for 2023.
“There will be a detour for the project but the road will be open to local traffic (those who live/work within the work zone), which is typical for many MnDOT projects,” Oyster said. “During bridge or culvert replacements, the road may be temporarily impassable for local traffic at the culvert sites.”
Traffic updates will be available by calling 511. Area residents may also sign up to receive project emails and get progress updates throughout construction on the project website: https://www.dot.state.mn.us/d4/projects/hwy34/index.html
The MnDOT Hwy. 34 resurfacing page has answers to many frequently asked questions. This is an abbreviated version of three of them.
Why do trees need to be removed?
MnDOT has had discussions with the Minnesota DNR in recent years to address dying trees along the Hwy. 34 corridor, focusing on specific tree removals to help control some of the forest health issues observed along the corridor.
Trees encroach on the roadway over time. To maintain site lines, prevent trees from falling on the road and remove insect and disease infestations as well as the removal of high-risk dead or decayed trees it is necessary to perform this clean-up work.
How does removing trees improve safety?
In Nov. 2020, this section of highway experienced a fatality where a vehicle left the roadway and crashed into a tree. The intent and design of the clear zone is for drivers to recover and successfully stop a vehicle if they exit the roadway.
The clear zone varies slightly throughout the project corridor but is generally between 45 and 55 feet. An additional 10 feet is added to the clear zone for MnDOT to maintain this area without damaging expensive maintenance equipment.
Tree cover is variable along the roadside. In several areas this “clear zone” tree removal will be unnoticeable as there currently are no trees. In other areas there may be 5 to 10 feet of trees that will require removal from the clear zone.
What will happen to show lady’s slippers in the area?
MnDOT makes extra efforts to protect Minnesota’s state flower, the showy lady’s slipper, along highway corridors. Along Hwy. 34, several locations have been brought to MnDOT’s attention and efforts will continue to identify and mark those areas.
Where avoidance is not possible, MnDOT has relocated lady’s slippers to Minnesota State Parks, wildlife management areas and other state or federal lands.