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Highway 34 project is back on track

Crews from Central Specialties, Inc., grade a mountain of sand to place water pipes underneath Highway 34 just east of Nevis' main intersection. The work is causing headaches for motorists and business as CSI attempts to finish the project on the original deadline date. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

As the work on Highway 34 resumes full-tilt between Dorset and Park Rapids, motorists, events and businesses are beginning to feel the weight of the work and workers trying to make up for lost time.

The inconvenience factor is rising daily after Central Specialties, Inc., resumed work on the major east-west tourist artery through lake country, delayed by the 20-day Minnesota shutdown.

"We've got a lot of things going on out there to get this done," CSI superintendent Allan Minnerath said Thursday.

He said the company would try to complete the paving and bituminous reclamation by the end of August, which was the original completion date. But that entails finishing the uncompleted work from before the shutdown on both phases of the project, he said.

That will inconvenience motorists throughout the stretch from Akeley to Park Rapids at least through this weekend, he said.

Nevis Mayor Paul Schroeder asked if some accommodations for the 9th annual Nevis Triathlon could be made and was told probably not.

Randall said he wasn't going to hold up construction for a couple hours Aug. 13 to accommodate the 350 athletes who show up for the event. It would just be too costly a delay, he said.

The bicycling portion of the triathlon usually runs along County Road 18 to County Road 7. Minnerath, DOT project supervisor Larry Randall and Nevis township chair Tom Walz all said it would be foolish to send bikers into harm's way,

The two-lane road is carrying a huge amount of traffic with residents and visitors traveling around the highway construction, the men said.

"If we're working that Saturday it's real trouble," Minnerath said. "You don't want to have bikes going down the road with all that traffic."

And County 18 has a one-foot graveled shoulder, he said, making passing more dangerous in traffic.

Schroeder said he would consider moving the route if he had to.

"We sure don't want to see somebody hurt," Randall said.

Chief inspector Tim Lundorff expressed some frustration that motorists were driving around the construction signs saying they didn't see them.

"Folks are going right around the barricades" into the work area, he said.

Flaggers have been stopping traffic to see if motorists have business along the blocked portion of the highway. If they don't they're sent to the detour, Randall said.

Meanwhile crews are trying to route traffic to the businesses such as the Brauhaus restaurant and the companies near Nevis' main intersection.

"People that have business within the detour can get in," Randall said.

It's a dangerous juggling act, Minnerath said.

"It's still my intent to have the detour off by Sept. 2, which was the original date," Randall said.

Meantime, "DOT upper echelon and the AGC (Associated General Contractors) are working on numerous contract revisions" in the wake of the shutdown, Randall said.

Among those revisions are incentives for Central Specialties to finish at the original date, he said.

"I consider us very lucky to get them back so soon," Randall said of the general contractor.

Minnerath said if the three-week hiatus hadn't fit into the company's schedule, the work would have had to wait until 2012 for completion.

Sarah Smith

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

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