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Iron Range highway conversion continues

Crews have started work on a roughly 1.5-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 169 dubbed the Cross Range Expressway.

The nearly $5.9 million project expands the highway to four lanes near Taconite. Once completed, only a nine-mile stretch of the Cross Range Expressway, between Taconite and Pengilly, west of Hibbing, will remain two lanes.

The Cross Range Expressway was first championed by the late Congressman Jim Oberstar. It was envisioned nearly three decades ago as a four-lane artery connecting Virginia to Grand Rapids. While the project is nearly completed, Duane Hill told the News Tribune earlier this month that there are no further funds set aside to complete the last nine miles of full four-lane conversion. Hill, district engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, called the leftover gap an example of fiscal constraints.

Motorists on the current stretch of highway will see crews doing grading and other excavation work in the project area, said a MnDOT news release. A two-lane bypass, using portable barriers, is in place in the vicinity of St. Louis County Road 7 to protect passing traffic from construction debris.

There will be only brief, intermittent closures which will affect traffic, said the news release. Flaggers will be present when closures occur.