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Summer road work will slow tourists

Those who depend on tourism for a living along the North Shore in Lake County have reason to fear what is looking like a horrendous construction season from Duluth and up the North Shore.

Not only will potential visitors need to navigate lane closures on Interstate 35 but, starting after Grandma's Marathon June 19, they will also need to detour off London Road and up to Superior Street on the east edge of Duluth, just before the expressway. The Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to reconstruct the Lester River bridge and it won't re-open for traffic until September.

It means many of the businesses along Scenic Highway 61 south of Two Harbors might be missed without directional signs leading drivers back to the highway from the expressway.

The Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce has received detour signage plans from MnDOT after it met with business owners in February.

Chamber President Gordy Anderson said MnDOT will add more signs where the expressway meets Superior Street and along the expressway to offer every chance for drivers to use the scenic route.

The chamber will also have to consider what it will do with its North Shore Visitor's Center just past the Lester River. It is meeting this week to discuss options, including moving it farther north along the expressway or the scenic.

MnDOT said it had no choice but to do the bridge work during peak summer travel time. The 1924 bridge is a state historic site, meaning specific guidelines have to be met in its upkeep, and the Lester River is a protected trout stream, meaning the Minnesota DNR won't allow work from Sept. 15 to July 1. MnDOT got a variance to begin work a bit earlier.

Drivers won't be out of the construction woods once out of Duluth. There will be major reconstruction work on Highway 61 near Split Rock Lighthouse this summer as well. Just more than three miles of highway will be improved from Split Rock River to Chapin's Curve. It's a $14.4 million project.