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Highway 34 work between Park Rapids, Dorset, almost back on July 1 deadline

Bituminous paving of Highway 34 began Friday noon. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Paving has begun on Highway 34 between Park Rapids and the Dorset corner and with minor exceptions, the resurfacing and turn lanes should be done by the July 1 deadline.

There may be some items such as striping that won't get finished, said DOT project supervisor Larry Randall.

But it's a quick turnaround for the Alexandria contractor who one week ago was expressing doubt his company could meet the deadline.

Allan Minnerath did not attend the weekly contractors meeting Thursday. Central Specialties project supervisor Jake Nygaard said "the weather has been kind of unfortunate," which may have been an understatement.

The project was plagued by a week's worth of rain and sloppy conditions

And that, Randall said, is the downside of a reclaim project. The asphalt has been stripped off the 3-mile stretch and ground up. It has been hauled off site to be remixed with new bituminous and that is what is being applied to the roadway.

But the bare gravel road has become rutted with traffic and heavy equipment.

"It loses all its stability when it rains," Randall said.

That had meant blading the roadway was futile until it dries out, which it began to Thursday afternoon.

Central Specialties had to bid the project "under traffic" because there was no viable detour the state and county could agree upon.

But Nygaard said motorists have found their way to three routes that run north of the project and that has cut the traffic considerably in the construction zone, allowing work to proceed despite the weather conditions.

Motorists are using County Roads 18, 40 and 81 to get from Dorset to Park Rapids.

The intersection of County Road 226/11 and Highway 34, called the "Dorset Corner," has been a difficult one, Nygaard admitted.

"It's an area that's hard to work in," he said. "We're using flaggers there. It should always be open but there could be short delays for equipment moving through."

County resident Arnold Leshovsky took the DOT to task for what he said was poor planning and execution of the project. He said the rutted roadway was hazardous to travel and likely would cause vehicular damage to the public.

Leshovsky complained the potholes were so large "ducks were flying out of them."

Randall said the conditions might be challenging "but you have to allow the contractor to do the work."

A pristine traveling surface isn't realistic under the weather conditions workers have experienced.

"We have car damage claims on many projects," Randall acknowledged. "But the contractor has to be allowed to build the road" in the easiest and quickest manner.

"They have to maintain (the roadway) in a reasonable condition for the traveling public," he said, explaining the obligation under the highway contract.

"Unfortunately, we didn't have a detour option," Randall added.

Leshovsky said numerous soft spots exist throughout the project and must be addressed before paving began.

Randall assured him density tests would be performed throughout the 3-mile stretch, using a "dynamic cone penetrometer" that measures gradation and moisture content.

Chief inspector Tim Lundorff said with weight restrictions, the state couldn't send "heavy rigs and heavy loads" onto county roadways without incurring more damage.

Minor project changes include the public access landing on the northern tip of Long Lake, where County Road 107 is being rerouted to connect to the highway at a 90-degree angle. Randall said the DNR has asked contractors to move the public access entrance road further south to connect off the county road.

And as drivers find their own ways around the work, Nygaard said, "It's made a big difference. Compared to last week, the traffic (in the construction zone)" has dropped off at a steady rate."

Central Specialties has been working 14-hour days, six days a week.

Randall said as a government shutdown looms and he has no answers as to the future of the project after July 1, "we're gonna conduct our business as if it's gonna continue. It's an unknown right now. We're gonna conduct business as we usually do."

"It's unfortunate," Lundorff said of the political climate. "There are no circumstances we know that will let the inspection work or the quality of the work slide."

Sarah Smith

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

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