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Road work goes full throttle through fall

Had enough of road work?

Ba-ba-ba-baby, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Because good news goes down better here it is: Construction on Highway 34 will be finished on time, contractors promise.

Mark your calendars for Nov. 15 - or Nov. 4. "We want to go deer hunting," the contractors laughed about the earlier date. The deer opener is Nov. 8. That incentive will keep them working 14-hour days, 80-hour weeks.

For the not-so-good news, you may want to grab a scorecard and pencil.

Work will begin Monday, Aug. 18, on Highway 34 at Akeley to Highway 371 in Walker. That work, paving, culvert replacements and turn lane construction, is expected to be finished Sept. 22.

The following day, Aug. 19, 19.5 miles of Highway 71 north of Park Rapids to the junction of Highway 200 will be paved. Motorists can expect intermittent delays with lane closures and a pilot car guiding them through the construction zone. That project will be finished Aug. 27.

Work will also begin on four Park Rapids city streets Aug. 18. Hollinger Street, Bear Path Drive, Eagle Drive and Edmond Drive will all be paved. Those projects, costing almost $600,000, are scheduled to take a month.

Contractors for the major Highway 34 project through Park Rapids held a progress meeting Thursday in which they discussed the job and the maze of cables, conduits, gas lines and other surprises they've encountered underground that has complicated the work.

"It is a slow, tedious process," said Berry Crist of Citi Lites Locating, one of the subcontractors.

Because the infrastructure is 60 years old and city records aren't quite accurate, the excavation work has been a continual challenge, contractors agreed.

"There's things underground we don't know about 'til we open it up," Crist said.

Next week the underground work will begin, installing a water main and lines, catch basins, box culverts and hydrants.

It only took a few days to strip all the old asphalt from the north lanes, haul it away and stockpile it near Wolf Lake, where some of it will be recycled into the new bituminous pavement.

The underground work is expected to take a month. Then the curb paving will begin. When that's done, a lift of asphalt will be put down and then two additional layers will cover the entire project.

The final touch will be the landscaping this fall. Trees and shrubs will be planted along the boulevards. More landscaping will occur in the spring.

Contractors said for the most part, the work has gone well. Early summer rains didn't slow the progress.

But traffic has been problematic at times, they all admitted, and workers have received the occasional single-digit salute from drivers, they admitted.

"People don't know how to use a four-way stop," said project supervisor Al Minnerath, foreman for Central Specialties, the prime contractor.

There have been numerous accidents this summer along the work zone, mostly near the stop signs on Central Avenue and near Eastern Avenue.

"They get impatient, they just aren't paying attention," said Minnesota Department of Transportation inspector Gary Baltes.

"Sometimes they're coming through a little fast," he added. The 30 mph speed limits may feel like a crawl to motorists, but to a worker on the road it feels like traffic is whizzing by, Baltes said. And most motorists are going faster than the posted limit.

Traffic has also slowed trucks hauling asphalt off the old roadway, the workers said. Impatient drivers often ignore signaling truckers trying to pull into traffic to get the loads off the north roadway.

Scott Olson, the manager of the Park Rapids Municipal Liquor Store, presented his monthly revenues to the city council Monday night, remarking that the revenues were secondary. "I really need a driveway," he told the council.

The contractors say aside from those right-of-way and access issues, business owners along the highway have been understanding and patient

The patience of the motoring public may be sorely tested over the next month, however.