ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's last remaining stretch of gravel state highway is going to get a little longer starting this week.

Seven miles of State Highway 74 in Winona and Wabasha counties already are unpaved. It's the only gravel road among the more than 11,000 miles of highway maintained by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Now the agency says it's going to convert another four miles of Highway 74 to gravel, north of the community of Elba. Work to remove the existing pavement started Monday and is expected to take about a month.

"Maintenance crews are unable to keep up with how the road is deteriorating and there is not sufficient funding to reconstruct and pave the road," MnDOT reported in a news release.

When the work is done, the gravel portion of the highway will run from Elba to Weaver. That stretch of Highway 74 travels through flood-prone wetlands along the Whitewater River.

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It's a route used by some local residents, and provides outdoor enthusiasts access to the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area. But the existing gravel portion is among the least-traveled stretches of state highway in Minnesota, seeing an average of 75 vehicles a day.

That compares to several thousand vehicles a day on nearby portions of U.S. Highway 61, and well over 100,000 a day on the busiest Twin Cities freeways.