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This driver applied the brakes immediately upon seeing the roadwork signs. That's not always the case, say DOT officials. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Concerned citizen warning others to slow down for bumpy road west of Walker

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Lee Zaczkowski has a case of road rage.

But his isn't directed against a fellow driver. He's fuming about a culvert repair mess just across the Hubbard County line west of Walker on Highway 34.

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And he's warning people to slow the heck down.

Now that's normally the job of highway officials, but citizen motorist Zaczkowski wants people to learn from his unfortunate experiences Saturday noon.

Minnesota Department of Transportation officials have already lowered the speed limit to 20 mph on the dicey patch. But Zaczkowski thinks even that's too fast.

It all began with a steel culvert rusting out earlier this spring, said DOT transportation operations supervisor Gary Kennedy. "By the pipe failing, the material (gravel) around the pipe washed out, causing a void. The void was under the driving lanes, therefore causing a safety issue to the motoring public."

Zaczkowski says it's still hazardous. "It's just a terrible spot," the resort proprietor said.

Kennedy agrees. He joins the owner of Timberlane Lodge in asking folks to get their lead tootsies off the accelerator when they reach that spot. He said traffic cones and warning signs are apparently not working.

DOT closed the road earlier this month and detoured traffic to make some emergency repairs. But since asphalt plant operators hadn't opened for business yet, Kennedy said it simply wasn't prudent to continue to detour traffic on the main artery between Park Rapids and Walker for another month, so the old steel pipe was replaced with a concrete one and the surface was graveled until the state can get some bituminous bids.

"This is the worst definition of a construction area I've ever seen," Zaczkowski maintains. He said the construction signs should be placed further back from the actual washout to give drivers more warning.

"I immediately cut back to 15 (mph) but it still jarred my car," he said. "Even if you're going 5 miles an hour I saw people bottoming out on the chuck holes."

Zaczkowski's car is now sitting in a transmission shop. His patience is likely parked outside the stall door. He's awaiting the verdict on the amount of damage, but based on his trip home, it isn't good, he speculated.

Kennedy is also awaiting bids, from the bituminous contractors up and running for the season. He hopes to complete the work within the next couple weeks. Meanwhile DOT has been regularly maintaining the gravel to prevent just such washboard conditions Zaczkowski complained about.

Shortly after his mishap, Zaczkowski made an emergency call to Hubbard County to report the condition. "I indicated somebody's gonna get hurt," he said.

Kennedy said it's been distressing to sit near the site and observe the traffic clipping through the area at a brisk pace, ignoring the reduced speed limit signs.

A monitor of vehicles at that spot Monday afternoon reinforced his concerns. Most motorists, upon seeing the "Road Construction" signs, didn't even bother to apply their brakes. And that's when undercarriages met the road.

Zaczkowski said he did apply his brakes, but the 20 mph sign, sitting right at the gravel section of the road, didn't give him ample warning about what he was about to encounter.

Kennedy said the issue of drivers ignoring construction speed zones does not bode well for the summer construction season.

But if motorists don't get the message from DOT, they surely will from Zaczkowski, who's shouting it from the rooftops.

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