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MnDOT plans outreach for overhaul of Grand Avenue

Long stripes of asphalt covering cracks, low spots and potholes run the length of Highway 23 from Grand Avenue at Interstate 35 all the way through the western half of Duluth. MnDOT plans to completely rehabilitate the highway starting next year. (Bob King / / 2
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Patchwork fixes to the cracks and potholes that mar Duluth’s Grand Avenue soon will be replaced with a long-term solution.

A stretch of Minnesota Highway 23/Grand Avenue is scheduled to undergo a two-year construction overhaul beginning in the spring of 2015, with the affected area reaching from the southbound exit off Interstate 35 to Becks Road.  

“The roadway is in need of rehabilitation,” said Beth Petrowske, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Duluth. While stopping short of calling the road unsafe, Petrowske said the repairs are long overdue.

“Our goal at MnDOT is to prevent roads from ever getting to that point,” Petrowske said of Grand Avenue, portions of which were repaved in 2005. The upcoming project requires workers to tear up the existing roadway and lay down a new coal-based surface.

“When roads get to that point, they’re exponentially more expensive to rehabilitate,” she said. “We wish we could have gotten to it sooner.”

The restoration of Grand Avenue is estimated to cost a little more than $3 million, with additional repairs on Highway 23 in Carlton and Pine counties expected to push the total to about $15 million, according to MnDOT.

Recent attempts to fill potholes and fix damaged stretches of Grand Avenue mostly have been unsuccessful, Petrowske said, because the worsening condition of the road allows cracks to quickly reopen.

Businesses on or near Grand Avenue have been feeling the effects of the crumbling roadway for years.

The Lake Superior Zoo, tucked behind trees a short distance off Grand Avenue, is not always visible from the street, said Dawn Mackety, CEO of the Lake Superior Zoological Society. She said the zoo will benefit from a number of the Grand Avenue improvements,

including new and expanded

sidewalks and bike lanes.

“We are anxious to see the details of the Grand Avenue plans,” Mackety said. “I think these improvements will go a long way toward improving our visitors’ experience.”

Derek Fredrickson, MnDOT project manager, said some of the repairs could take up until the fall of 2016 to complete, perhaps longer if weather conditions cause additional damage. Motorists will experience only minor road closures, he said, with the two-way street switching from double to single lanes during construction.

MnDOT has scheduled two public meetings to discuss the project — Sept. 8 at the Center City West Community Center and Sept. 17 at the Morgan Park Community Center. Both meetings start at 6:30 p.m.

Among other alterations, the project will narrow Grand Avenue from 24 feet to 22 feet on each side of the centerline, affording bicyclists on each side extra space.

Intersections will be equipped with pedestrian-activated crosswalks and redesigned according to standards from the American Disabilities Act.

Workers also will construct two new bridges — one over Kingsbury Creek in front of the zoo and another over Knowlton Creek near the base of Spirit Mountain.