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Highway 34 work progresses as crews race to finish Sept. 1

All the road signs and the detour will be gone by Sept. 1, highway officials assure the public. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The Highway 34 project continues to cause some inconveniences while workers speed toward an early finish to the major highway construction project from Park Rapids to Akeley.

General contractor superintendent Allan Minnerath said if the weather holds out, most of the paving should be done by the end of next week.

"They're trying to get through a project that's gonna benefit everybody," said Department of Transportation spokesperson Karen Bedeau, who attends the weekly progress meetings in Nevis.

Two paving crews are working, one paving the mainline of the highway; the second paving the shoulders.

"Overall you guys are doing a helluva job," said County Road 80 resident Tom Bensen. "If we didn't nitpick, you guys would probably get done quicker."

"We appreciate that," said an obviously relieved DOT supervisor Larry Randall, who faced some vocal criticism last week.

"We'd like to wave a magic wand and poof!" the project would be over, he said.

"This highway has a high traffic count and a lot of businesses," he said of the obstacles the crews are working around.

The aggravating problem continues to be traffic in the work area, Minnerath said.

While crews are trying to keep the road open for local traffic only, impatient drivers are going around "Road Closed" barricades and driving on the newly paved asphalt.

"We appreciate your patience," Randall reiterated.

DOT workers and Central Specialties, Inc., still faced some heat from Brauhaus owner Gabriele Kirschman.

Last week a fluke resulted in two tour buses headed for her German restaurant on Highway 34 being routed away from local traffic and through the 30-mile detour when a crucial stretch of Highway 64 was being paved through Akeley.

"They got lost," Kirschman said of the buses.

Highway officials assured her they would try not to let it happen again.

"That intersection's gonna be a mess when we're paving it," Minnerath said, indicating crews had the option to put traffic on the detour south of Akeley.

Ambulances have been allowed through the work zone, he said. Truck drivers on the project have their own radio network and are alerted when an ambulance must get through.

But Hubbard County jail administrator Sherri Klasen said one ambulance crew got lost when street signs were taken down in Akeley last week. She asked that road crews move the signs back if they are being taken out, so emergency crews can still see them.

"Yesterday we were just under 10 miles of paving, which is commendable," said chief inspector Tim Lundorff, commenting on the pace of the work. Despite a three-week state shutdown, Central Specialties is trying to meet the original deadline date. It will receive an incentive payment if it does.

Road crews are ready for today's Nevis Triathlon, which was diverted out of the work area for safety reasons. Minnerath said all truck drivers have been notified of bicyclists crossing County Road 18 on the Heartland Trail.

Randall said the detour will be off the road by Sept. 1.

Kirschman said if diners need to get to her restaurant meanwhile, they should take County Road 18 east out of Park Rapids, then Highway 2 north, and County 85 east again, which brings traffic within a block of the establishment. Or she asked people to call her at 652-2478 and her staff will direct diners in.

Eventually some centerline rumble strips will be placed on the mainline highway in some areas, along with rumble strips on the shoulders.

DOT hopes the centerline strips will prevent accidents such as a crash last month when a Park Rapids man crossed the centerline near the Dorset Corner and struck an oncoming vehicle head-on, killing the other driver. A similar fatality occurred two years ago.

"Studies say they work," Randall said.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364
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