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MnDOT changes Highway 61 construction timeline in Lake County.

Mar 16, 2018 08:59AM ● Published by Editor

By Jamey Malcomb in The Lake County News Chronicle - March 16, 2018.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has changed its schedule for the Highway 61 construction project in Two Harbors this summer due to concerns voiced during a public meeting Feb. 20.

The 4-mile, $3.6 million project will repave Highway 61 from Eighth Street in Two Harbors up to the Silver Creek Tunnel and replace the three traffic signals between Eighth and Fourth streets.

The goal is to improve the flow of traffic through town, particularly during high-volume times in late summer and early fall.

The project also will change the striping on the highway to create a turn lane all the way through Two Harbors' downtown.

The traffic signals will replace the oldest lights in MnDOT's District 1, which includes all of northeastern Minnesota. The new lights will communicate with each other to increase the flow of traffic through town during high-traffic times.

In addition to changes to turn lanes, the project includes some storm sewer, sidewalk and rural culvert work. At the intersection of highways 61 and 2, MnDOT plans to create a "free right" turn going south on Highway 61.

The "rural" part of the project, which begins just north of Two Harbors on Highway 61, is scheduled to begin in May. The "urban" section was originally planned to begin July 9, just after the Heritage Days festival.

During the February meeting, business owners expressed concerns about the urban section of construction beginning in what is typically the highest traffic time in Two Harbors: July until the fall colors peak in late September. Some residents at the meeting inquired as to whether the work could be flip-flopped, with the downtown section completed first and the rural section later.

The problem with swapping the timing on the sections was attributed to the traffic signals. The signals are made-to-order and can take 18 weeks or more to fabricate and deliver from the time they are ordered, making it impossible for the lights to be ready for a May start.

However, MnDOT wanted to respond to the concerns raised at the meeting. The best solution they could find was swapping the two phases of urban construction, which also includes some storm sewer and sidewalk work.

"Basically, we had a plan going into it and we received some feedback from the businesses and we took a second look," MnDOT project engineer Brett Weybright said. "It wasn't too late to make and change to still fit our work in and minimize the impact a little bit."

Now, instead of starting in early July, MnDOT will start work at the intersection of highways 61 and 2 in late July and create a "free right" turn going south on Highway 61.

"When we hit the urban piece, we're going to start with that Fourth Street intersection," Weybright said. "We're starting that piece first because it's still in town, but the bulk of the businesses are in that Eighth to Fifth street section, and what we heard was July and August are the biggest."

Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce President Janelle Jones helped organize the Feb. 20 meeting and was please to see it bear fruit.

"I appreciate the great relationship we have with MnDOT and their willingness to help us get through this much needed project as quickly and efficiently as we can, while respecting the impact it will have on our local businesses," Jones said in an email. "Moving the start date to after Labor Day takes the pressure off our summer season and this is why working together is so critical and beneficial on these projects."

Weybright also said MnDOT plans to schedule another public meeting after a contractor for the project is selected in early May. There are plans to hold weekly meetings throughout the project for business owners and residents to express their concerns with the construction.

Revised MnDOT construction schedule

Mid-May through October - Two Harbors to Silver Creek Tunnel

• Bituminous paving, rural culvert work

• Single lane of traffic in each maintained for duration of project on Highway 61. Anticipate flagging operation or temporary signals at work locations.

July 30 to early September - Two Harbors: Fourth Street

• Bituminous paving, traffic signals, turn lanes, storm sewer, sidewalk, handicapped-accessibility improvements

• Side streets and entrances closed for short durations. Single lane of traffic maintained on Highway 61 and north leg of Fourth Street at all times.

September to early October -Two Harbors: Fifth Street to Eighth Street

• Bituminous paving, traffic signals, turn lanes, storm sewer, sidewalk improvements

• Side streets and entrances closed for short durations. Single lane of traffic maintained on Highway 61 at all times.

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