By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN A simple bridge replacement on McLeod County Road 23 east of Lester Prairie got complicated in a hurry when 5 inches of rain fell at the wrong time, according to McLeod County Project Engineer Phil Schmalz.
The $1.3 million reconstruction of a 1.1-mile stretch of County Road 23 from McLeod County Road 9 to the Carver County border includes replacing a small bridge over Otter Creek with two box culverts.
“That would typically take two or three days,” Schmalz said.
Unfortunately, heavy rain in the area that occurred after the bridge was removed, but before the work was finished, put a stop to the work until the water recedes.
For now, the work area is under water, leaving the county and contractor Mathiowetz Construction of Sleepy Eye, waiting for the water to go down.
“We are checking it every day,” Schmalz said.
To make matters worse, school starts Tuesday for Lester Prairie students, and some families are left on the wrong side of the bridge site.
“There are a few kids on the east side of the box culvert,” Schmalz confirmed.
Debbie Mathews, who lives east of the culvert, appeared before the McLeod County Board Tuesday evening looking for answers.
She said she was informed by the bus company that it will not be bussing students from the east side of the bridge until the road is passable.
Mathews said she has expressed her concerns about the kids being able to get to school since the county announced the project, and has been told there was nothing to worry about.
Commissioner Ray Bayerl said he would talk to the highway department and get back to Mathews.
“We are talking to the bus company and trying to figure it out,” Schmalz said. “This is definitely not an ideal situation.”
In order to get from the east side of the project area to Lester Prairie, it is necessary to drive up to Highway 7 and west to McLeod County Road 9.
However, Schmalz noted that, according to the bus company, the busing issue is “pretty standard.” Even before construction, buses were unable to pick up some students east of the construction area every few years when the road was closed due to flooding, and families in the area are used to that.
Schmalz said he hopes the reconstruction project, which includes raising the road bed, will help eliminate that problem.
The bus company tried to work with the affected residents by offering to pick up students if the parents could get them to the west side of the construction zone, Schmalz explained.
He said he was told by a bus company representative that, due to budget and schedule limitations, the company is unable to drive around the work area to pick up the affected students. The detour could add 20 minutes to the trip, Schmalz said.
Work on completion of the culvert installation could begin as early as this week, and won’t take very long once it is started, according to Schmalz, but conditions must dry out before that can happen, and there is more rain in the forecast, he noted.
Apart from the problems caused by the rain, the project has gone well overall, Schmalz said.
“The grading is pretty much complete, and they shouldn’t have much work left this fall (after the culvert work is complete),” Schmalz commented.
“Ideally, we should have been done by now,” he added.