By Lynda Jensen
DELANO, MN A traffic mix-up that included state troopers turning away drivers from local businesses prompted the Delano Highway 12 Task Force to call an emergency meeting Tuesday.
The problem began July 7 when flag workers began to direct traffic back on the west side of Flower Farm on Highway 12.
“I knew it would be a problem Tuesday morning when they (flagmen) wouldn’t let me go to my own business,” commented Tony Donahue of Delano Sports Center.
The problem got worse the next day when state troopers, coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, were stationed by Flower Farm, forcing drivers back.
Calling the troopers in was a worst case scenario, admitted Rick Beckes of MnDOT, since a public safety issue developed on 72nd Street, he said.
That problem was hundreds of cars per hour attempting to use an unguarded railroad crossing on 72nd Street, a gravel road, which is being used by many as an unofficial detour, commented Bill McMullen of Franklin Township.
However, McMullen was quick to point out that local drivers are allowed and welcome to use this road. “Local traffic is welcome to use (72nd),” McMullen said.
On the first day of the detour, McMullen said a count was made by the township of 400 cars per hour. “We had thousands of cars full semi trucks and everything go through,” he said.
People who are not obeying signage present a big problem for contractors, Beckes observed.
John Tackaberry, who is co-chair of the Highway 12 Task Force, agreed. “Ninety nine percent of people are good,” he said, but the other 1 percent can cause problems for everyone else."
The troopers were moved back, closer to the construction zone, as of Tuesday, Beckes noted.
Moving troopers back made a big difference, Donahue said, since his business isn’t technically inside the construction area, and that troopers were located too far away from the road work, driving away customers.
His drive-by patronage has been down between 80 and 90 percent, he added.
Other businesses affected by the problem, according to MnDOT, include a fleet of trucks from Randy’s Sanitation, Absolute Automotive, Crow River Harley, the American Legion, Delano Sports Center, Delano Theatre, Flower Farm, and Ranchers.
“The next few weeks, with utility reconstruction beneath the roadway, are going to be difficult,” commented Administrator Phil Kern. “Once that’s complete, the contractor will begin rebuilding the roadway and the end will be getting nearer.”
“The city remains dedicated to easing the burden on business owners and residents brought on by highway construction,” Kern added. “We are continuing to work with MnDOT and the Chamber of Commerce on a daily basis, trying to make improvements to the project.”
The troopers will remain in Delano through Friday, July 24, Beckes said. In the meantime, they are stationed during two time periods during weekdays, from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Tackaberry, who called the emergency meeting, said the key is communication, and teamwork, that will get everyone through the construction. The detour mix-up wasn’t just a west side problem, but a problem for all the businesses in Delano.
“Let’s communicate. Let’s work together,” he said. “Let’s make it positive forward.”
He encouraged anyone with concerns to attend the next task force meeting 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 21 at the lower level of the State Bank of Delano.
“We have roughly 11 weeks left until the completion of the project, which will yield a much safer corridor that’s inviting for all who visit Delano,” Kern added.
Completion date for the project is Sept. 30, Beckes said.