Full-throttle road construction season ahead for Lake County
The Lake County Highway Department is gearing up for a busy summer construction season.
“It’s that time of year and we’re starting to get calls and questions,” said Highway Engineer Krysten Foster, who took over the position after Al Goodman retired late last year.
The county is putting a number of big projects out for bid, including repairs to the Big Rock Road culvert northwest of Two Harbors, working on the main drag in Silver Bay and the bottom portion of Lax Lake Road, and putting a new parking lot and shelter next to the Beaver River just outside of Beaver Bay.
On Highways 10, 11 and 12 west of Two Harbors, new sealant will be applied; a strategy intended to keep the pavement in good shape over a longer period of time. Workers will spray an oily substance onto the road’s surface, top it with small chips and spray an additional two layers of sealant on top of that.
“It’s a little bit different than traditional pavement and it’s the first time we’re trying in Lake County,” Foster said.
The county tries to come up with new ideas for keeping roads resilient during harsh winters while limiting costs to taxpayers. This winter, an especially severe one, has left a lot of county roads in need of grading and pothole repair, Foster said.
“We are seeing some potholes we didn’t see before. We’ll probably have to put more effort into that than we have in the past,” she said.
She added that crews will get to grading gravel roads as soon as possible, but newly-thawed roads have been deluged by rain and attempts to begin grading at this point would result in “a soupy mess.”
“I know that’s a frustration for our crews and some residents,” Foster said.
The county’s 24 employees, including 18 in Two Harbors, five in Finland and one near the Boundary Waters, will stay busy with regular maintenance tasks. This year’s bigger, largely federally-funded projects will be contracted out.
The county is responsible for 428 miles of road – 40 percent of the routes in the county.
In addition to county work, the state has its own to-do list.
Nearly two years after construction began, officials say the Tettegouche visitors’ center and rest area will open in June. The long-awaited 11,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility, a collaborative venture of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Department of Transportation, will be better suited to serve the increasing number of North Shore visitors. Its features include larger interpretive displays, Wi-Fi and round-the-clock restroom access.
On Highway 61, MNDoT plans to repaint a number of bridges, including Crow Creek, Knife and Beaver River bridges. From May to September, traffic will be limited to a single lane near Little Marais while road work is underway, with a road closure and detour slated for July 21 through Aug. 8, according to MNDoT project engineer Dan Erickson. Motorists will be sent across Highway 1 and County Road 6, adding seven miles to their treks. Contractors will be resurfacing the highway, reconstructing the shoulders and replacing culverts. Crews will be working around the clock to get the work done and limit inconvenience to residents and visitors.
“We try to minimize delays for the travelling public,” Erickson said. Rerouting the traffic will allow crews to finish the work more quickly, he said, although “working 24 hours a day is tough.”
Improvements to Highway 1 between Two Harbors and Ely are expected to be completed this summer, with resurfacing causing lane closures just south of Ely. Traffic should be flowing smoothly by the end of June, however.
MNDoT senior engineer Rob Ronning acknowledges that detours and delays can be frustrating for motorists, but summers are brief in northern Minnesota and crews have to tackle necessary repairs while they can.
“We have a short construction season to get things done. It just happens to be around the same time we have a lot of tourism,” Ronning said. “Just be patient and drive safely."