By Ivan Raconteur
The $13.4 million Highway 7 construction project which was scheduled to start today has been pushed back one week due to heavy snow in the forecast, giving commuters a reprieve before the detour signs go up.
The importance of the road as a major east-west transportation corridor was illustrated by the nearly 120 area residents who packed the Mayer community center Tuesday night for the last public informational meeting before the start of construction.
MnDOT representatives Kelly Brunkhorst and Dave Johnson presented a brief summary of the plan for the project and answered questions from the audience.
The project will involve milling and resurfacing 22 miles of pavement, adding three passing lanes (one in McLeod County and two in Carver County), and intersection improvements which will include roundabouts at Highway 25 and Carver County Road 10.
The work will be completed in stages. The first stage, from Carver County Road 10 east to St. Bonifacius is scheduled to be complete by June 28.
The second stage, from Highway 25 east to County Road 10 is scheduled to be complete by September 8, and the entire project is set for completion by November 15.
Despite the phased approach, Brunkhorst said crews will be working on all areas of the project concurrently.
Brunkhorst said work will begin with the Carver County Road 10 intersection, which will be impassible almost immediately. While this intersection is closed, the Highway 25 intersection will remain open, she said, adding that these two important north-south routes will never be closed at the same time.
The last thing that will be done is the reconstruction of the McLeod County Road 9 intersection.
Brunkhorst said this will be delayed as long as possible, because it is a haul route that will be used to bring in much of the gravel for the project.
Finding ways to get around during construction
From today forward, the highway will be closed to through traffic.
Beginning in Hutchinson, traffic will be routed south on Highway 22 to Highway 212, east to Highway 5, east to Highway 41, and north to Highway 7.
The official detour adds nine miles of travel distance, Brunkhorst said, but she acknowledged that people will find their own ways to get around.
“Locals will find different routes, we’re quite certain of that,” she commented.
The detour will be implemented right away to keep through traffic off of the road during construction.
“The main goal is providing a safe work environment,” Brunkhorst said.
Highway 7 will remain open to local traffic as much as possible during construction.
“If you need to get to or from a residence or business on Highway 7, that is considered local traffic,” Brunkhorst said.
She cautioned that drivers should use alternate routes as much as possible, and only get on Highway 7 as close to their destination as they can.
Spreading the word
MnDOT plans to keep people informed about progress throughout the construction period.
Brunkhorst will conduct an informational meeting every Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Hollywood Ranch House, at the intersection of Carver County Road 33 and Highway 7 north of New Germany.
These meetings will be open to the public.
Information about the project, including where crews are working and where they will be next, will also be published in the Herald Journal and at www.herald-journal.com.
Those who attended Tuesday’s meeting asked about a variety of issues.
Some, who live along Highway 7, asked if they will be able to get in and out of their driveways.
“The contract says they have to leave reasonable access for local residents.”
Johnson pointed out that there may be differences of opinion about what constitutes “reasonable access.”
Other residents asked about mail delivery. Brunkhorst said the contractor, Knife River, is working with the post offices to relocate mail boxes during the project, and residents who are affected will be notified.
Farmers expressed concern about being able to get in and out of their fields and move equipment during the project.
Business owners expressed concerns about whether their customers will be able to get to their locations during construction.
Brunkhorst said people should have local access most of the time.
The period for public comment on the period ended in 2002, but many residents still expressed concern about how the two new roundabouts will affect traffic flow.
Truck drivers said the roundabouts are not designed for truck traffic. Other residents expressed fear that the roundabouts will create backups.
“We’ve been told that these roundabouts operate more efficiently than a traffic signal,” Johnson said. “There are 35 roundabouts in Minnesota now, and 12 more are being constructed. Studies show that they increase safety.”
Regarding truck traffic, Brunkhorst said that the roundabouts are designed with drop-down signs and gravel aprons to allow for the passage oversize loads.
Johnson said the roundabouts have a 90-foot radius to the outside edge, and the design has been reviewed by MnDOT traffic engineers.
Highway 7 was built in 1940, and the last major reconstruction projects were in 1985, 1986, and 1989.
Planning for the current project began in 2002, and work was scheduled to begin in 2006, but was pushed back due to funding issues, Brunkhorst said.
MnDOT engineer Kelly Brunkhorst will conduct weekly informational meetings every Wednesday afternoon at 1 p.m. at the Hollywood Ranch house at the intersection of Carver County Road 33 and Highway 7, north of New Germany.
Information about the project will also be published each week in the Herald Journal and at www.herald-journal.com.