Duluth on road to recovery as roads get fixedIf you didn’t already snap a photo of the giant sinkhole that swallowed a car on East Skyline Parkway in Duluth, it's too late.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
If you didn’t already snap a photo of the giant sinkhole that swallowed a car on East Skyline Parkway in Duluth, it's too late.
The hole is filled in, road repaired and traffic is flowing again.
Same goes for the chasm on West Skyline Parkway that stranded 13 families in the Spirit Mountain area. New culvert in. Hole filled. Road reopened.
“We’re prioritizing safety and access at this point, trying to get the biggest jobs done,” said Jim Benning, Duluth public works director. “But, yeah, we’re farther along than I would have expected a few days ago.”
The city let bids for the West Skyline job on Friday. The construction contractor started work on Saturday.
Even Vermilion Road, which buckled after nearly 10 inches of rain pushed Tischer Creek out of its banks and down the road last Wednesday, should be open by next week.
“We’re going to take bids for that job (today). They should be able to get to work right away. It will be a gravel road for a few months, but the people who live on Vermilion Road will be able to access their homes,” said Eric Shaffer, Duluth chief utilities engineer.
Bids were taken Tuesday to fix the mess at 38th Avenue West and Seventh Street.
One by one, Duluth is ticking off its worst road repairs left by the record rain and flood — the same ones that made for stunning photos in newspapers across the country.
The city has been using state and city-authorized emergency rules — calling contractors out to a project scene, taking bids on the spot, hiring the low bidder and setting them to work — shaving weeks, even months off the usual process.
Loads of sand and gravel
Debris, such as tree roots and boulders, must be removed first at the repair jobs. In some cases, water mains, storm sewers, gas lines and sanitary sewers also must be repaired. But so far those utility fixes have been fairly easy, city officials said. Storm sewers, simply not designed to handle a once-in-500-years rainstorm — fared the worst.
“We only had one water main break in all of this,” Shaffer noted.
In the case of the giant West Skyline washout, more than 50 feet long and 25 feet deep across a ravine, crews in the last four days replaced the washed-away 42-inch steel culvert with a new 48-inch concrete culvert.
On top of that, they added large rock to stabilize the base and dumped sand for a solid fill. Crews for RJS Construction from Superior then hauled in dump truck after dump truck of Class-5 gravel for a road base and then rolled it down. A layer of blacktop will be added later.
“It’s pretty simple work,” Benning said of repairing most washouts. “We’re having no problem at all getting contractors to bid from across Minnesota, even outside the state. We were getting calls before the rain stopped offering to help us out. Obviously, this is their business — they have to make money. … But we haven’t seen any evidence of any gouging as yet.”
The city is paying for materials plus contractor hours, including overtime, as opposed to the usual fixed-price bid for the entire project.
Tuesday afternoon on West Skyline, several families were waiting by their vehicles, watching contractors dump gravel and champing at the bit to escape their weeklong confinement. Brandon Stover was the first to drive his four-wheel-drive across the almost-finished repair at 1 p.m. By 4 p.m. families were driving out to hit the bank and get groceries.
“I’d almost forgotten how it felt” to drive, joked Scott Kylander-Johnson, who drove his family station wagon over the newly packed roadway even as more truckloads of fill were on the way. “It really wasn’t that bad. It was a lot more quiet up here with no one driving through.”
Kylander-Johnson said he was “blown away” by how fast crews got the work done,
“And they’ve been so nice about everything. It’s been a great job,” he said.
Duluth City Council President Dan Hartman said he was impressed by the swiftness of the city’s response, cutting through red tape and putting work on a path for completion. City officials say repairs to washouts on the west side of the Spirit Mountain neighborhood should be finished today or Thursday, reopening Skyline Parkway.
“That’s quite an amazing speed for government to move,” Hartman said.
City pays up front, feds will reimburse
The city has had offers from Hibbing, White Bear Lake, Minn., and other cities to send road crews to help Duluth. So far that hasn’t been needed. City crews have been handling the cleanup while private firms are handling the repair work. City crews will join in repairs when the more basic rubble removal is complete.
Benning said city accountants have determined there’s enough money available in city coffers to cover about three months’ worth of flood repair projects. After that, the city would have to do short-term borrowing.
Eventually, the city expects the federal government to reimburse the city for 75 percent of the flood repair costs under an expected disaster area declaration. The state is expected to kick in most or all of the remaining 25 percent.
“Our biggest issue now isn’t getting contractors or getting the work done; it’s making sure we slow down and document everything, have a good paper trail, to make sure we get reimbursed” from the federal government, Benning said. “In talking with the Wadena people after their tornado and Roseau after their flood, they warned us to make sure we had everything documented before we did the work.”
News Tribune staff writer Peter Passi contributed to this report.