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Highway 34 repaving project outlined

It is the Highway 34 intersection through Nevis that most bothers residents as a safety hazard. County roads 2 and 13 cross the busy highway at an angle. There wasn't money in the budget to straighten it out, DOT officials said, so some Nevis residents have suggested a lower speed limit through town. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The Highway 34 resurfacing project from Park Rapids to Akeley is 10 months away and already drawing concerns about delays and detours.

But it is what the project won't do that has irked local residents.

A platoon of Minnesota Department of Transportation officials met with residents Tuesday evening to lay out the proposal that will reclaim much of the asphalt surface and repave the heavily used state highway next summer.

The project's tentative dates are May 23 to Sept. 2, 2011.

The worst spots

But Nevis residents angrily questioned why a dangerous intersection across the highway leading into the town's center wouldn't be straightened out.

The angle of County roads 2 and 13, which intersect with Highway 34, won't be changed but left turn lanes will be added for safety, said construction engineer Todd Vonasek.

Realigning two county roads got to be outside the scope of the "mid-point interim" project, DOT officials said.

It would increase the cost and lengthen the project's timeline to acquire the right-of-way needed near Lake Belle Taine and Nevis, said traffic engineer Bill Pirkl.

Pirkl said it was a matter of working with the dollars available.

"We would have liked to have realigned (County roads) 20 and 112" additionally near Long Lake, he said. It wasn't possible given the limited dollars allocated, he said.

But some Nevis residents questioned what the price of a human life would be. They advocated a lower speed limit through town. It's currently 50 mph and concerned residents say traffic doesn't slow down from the 55 mph posted highway limit when motorists are heading through town.

"The public sets the speed limits to what 85 percent of traffic is doing" by law, Pirkl said. He suggested flashing warning signs be installed on each end of town.

"We can't just go out there and call the speeds by law," he said.

Other issues and Dorset

Another resident wondered about ATV approaches over driveways but was told riders are legally entitled to ride in the ditches because it's state property, as are the driveway approaches.

"Folks, there are a lot of things we would have loved to do with this road," Pirkl said.

DOT officials explained they would add incentives and disincentives to the project specifications to minimize the inconvenience to cities and motorists. They asked for a list of summer events they should plan around.

The part of County 226 that heads north into Dorset wouldn't be repaved during that town's summer food festival, Vonasek said.

Likewise, the contractor will have to avoid working Memorial and Labor days, the Fourth of July and plan around local festivals like Nevis' Muskie Days and Akeley's Paul Bunyan Days.

But design engineer Phil Bergen said it would be difficult to pigeonhole the contractor much more, because if certain timelines are set into the contract in stone the bids will come in much higher than anticipated.

"We will put a sizeable incentive in the contract," said assistant district engineer Craig Collison. But he warned that the work may occur six days a week to accommodate that tight timeline.

What the work entails

On Highway 34, the contractor will mill off the top 3 to 3.5 inches of asphalt and haul it off site to reclaim it for other paving jobs. The remainder of the bituminous overlay will be pulverized into the gravel underneath to form the new base for the highway.

Five to 5.5 inches of new asphalt will then be laid over the base.

There will be a continuous center turn lane from County 4 to County 107, which runs off the west side of Long Lake to the highway, said project manager Darren Laesch.

The shoulders of the entire stretch will be paved with rumble strips to enhance safety and turn lanes will be installed in the areas of the heaviest traffic, engineers said.

And to assuage residents who live along the highway, engineers said they would have daily access in and out of their homes.

"It will be passable throughout construction," Laesch said.

The detour

But re-compacting the base "is tough to do under traffic," Vonasek said, necessitating a 27.3-mile detour around Nevis.

"They will bid the cost, time and materials," Vonasek said. Because detours are expensive and time consuming, it will be to the contractor's advantage to minimize the time any detour is used. Liquidated damages or disincentives would apply if the detour were to be in place too long, the engineers stressed.

Hubbard County engineer Dave Olsonawski plotted the detour route, which would run south on Highway 64 out of Akeley to Highway 87 west, then north on County Road 11 back to the "Dorset corner."

Because the stretch of highway from County Road 4 to the Dorset corner is heavily traveled with an estimated 13,000 cars per day, Vonasek said DOT would "bite the bullet" and do that stretch under traffic.

"There's gonna be delays," Vonasek admitted. "We'll use pilot cars even when we detour" traffic.

"We always gotta get you home and provide access to small businesses" unless the paver is directly in front of the home or business.

The County 226 portion of the project should only take a few days, Vonasek said, milling off 1.5 inches of asphalt and replacing it with an equal amount of blacktop. Concerned Dorset merchants worried about the timeframe of that phase of the project.

Incentives to "get 'er done"

"We have strategies to minimize the duration of the roadwork by promoting creativity on the part of the contractor, design engineer Phil Bergem said.

Ideas such as lane rental or detour rental have been discussed. DOT has also discussed adding completion dates for each phase of the project.

Collison said a similar set of rules was imposed in 2009 during the paving of Highway 71 from Park Rapids to Menahga and the contractor had finished that project before motorists even realized they'd been inconvenienced.

"He came in here and got it done in a big hurry," Collision said of Central Specialties, the Alexandria contractor that finished nearly a month ahead of schedule.

"This is going to be a bother to those driving through it and living in it," Bergem said. "I'm not going to sugar coat it."

But Laesch reiterated both the state and eventual contractor want to "minimize the time we're in there."

Engineers asked the two dozen attendees to write down suggestions for turn lanes and list the times of local festivals so they can consider them in drawing up final plans for the roadwork.

And Pirkl said if residents truly want the speed limit through Nevis lowered, an official resolution from either the city council or Hubbard County board would be seriously considered.

"I'm bound by law to set that speed limit at the 85th percentile so be careful what you wish for," Pirkl cautioned.

Sarah Smith

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

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