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The Highway 34 work will resume Monday where it left off two years ago, just east of Hubbard County 4. Engineers warn motorists to expect significant delays. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Highway 34 work starts Monday

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Highway 34 resurfacing work begins Monday in Park Rapids and the project supervisor isn't sugar coating the initial stage, assuring that "the first mile will be ugly."

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That unattractive mile runs east from Hubbard County 4, where the project left off two years ago just east of Park Rapids.

Motorists can expect delays of up to 10 minutes, Central Specialties superintendent Allan Minnerath estimates. The Alexandria company is the general contractor for the project.

"Trying to grade a road under traffic in sandy soil doesn't work," Minnerath said of the difficulties anticipated on the $7 million project.

"Expect extensive delays," he added. "With the traffic out there now it's gonna slow down" even more for roadwork.

The company will use flaggers and a pilot car since the work will be done during traffic.

Project supervisor Larry Randall admitted the current weather pattern of frequent rain, winds and thunderstorms "is killing us."

Randall, of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, says he's not worried so much about residents.

"Locals find their own way" around roadwork, he said. It's the tourists he worries about, so MnDOT and the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce have delivered brochures to each resort outlining the resurfacing project that will run from Park Rapids to Akeley this summer. It theoretically explains the project staging and time frames.

But as a government shutdown looms, Randall said all bets are off.

"I can't say with 100 percent certainty" there won't be a shutdown, Randall said, and the possibility looms closer each day.

Thursday Gov. Mark Dayton suggested bringing in a professional mediator to resolve the budget impasse. Republicans immediately accused him of abdicating his responsibilities.

Randall said contractually, Central Specialties must complete the first 3.2 miles to the Dorset corner by July 1, the date Minnesota could shut down government services.

Randall said for now, only law enforcement will be deemed essential services immune from layoffs.

Minnerath said his company would work 14-hour days, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and possibly Saturdays, to complete that work.

That first mile could take two weeks, he said. It entails a complete removal of the pavement, widening, extensions, culvert replacement and apron work to County Road 107.

It also entails realigning 107, which intersects Highway 34 at a sharp angle. That will be repositioned to intersect at a 90-degree angle with the heavily traveled highway.

After the first mile, 3½ inches of asphalt will be milled off the surface all the way to Akeley and recycled for use in the new base and bituminous overlay.

"Basically it will be a gravel road during construction so it won't be the nicest thing to drive on," Minnerath said.

Throughout the project, 28 turn lanes will be added, Randall said.

There will be a detour by summer's end to complete the easternmost section of the project into Akeley.

Randall said Central Specialties is required to maintain access to the highway for all residences and businesses along the route. There could be brief interruptions for paving, but that's all, he said.

Incentives and disincentives have been built into the contract to ensure it won't inconvenience summer motorists unnecessarily, Randall said.

"There's a pretty tight time frame" to complete the work by Sept. 1, Randall said. "As usual Mother Nature could throw a bug in it."

Highway 226 through Dorset, a "mill and fill," will take a couple days, meaning pavement will be removed, ground, heated and repaved in place.

Arnold Leshovsky, who lives on the highway and attended the pre-construction meeting Thursday, repeatedly questioned why work would have to cease July 1 since the project has been planned and budgeted for many years ago. Money has already been appropriated, he said. Threats of a government shutdown were simply "scare tactics."

But Randall said the more time that passes and the nastier the political fight over the budget gets, "your guess is as good as mine" as to whether the work will stop at the Dorset corner.

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