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Interstate 35 Southbound reopened in Duluth

Downtown Duluth transit center nears opening

Construction workers use lifts to work on the exterior of the Duluth Transit Authority's Multimodal Transportation Center on Michigan Street in downtown Duluth on Monday afternoon. (Bob King / / 3
Welder Chris Iwaszko finishes detail work on the skywalk to the Duluth Transit Authority's Multimodal Transportation Center in downtown Duluth earlier this week. (Bob King / / 3
Workers complete projects Monday on the side of the Duluth Transit Authority's new Multimodal Transportation Center that faces Interstate 35 in downtown Duluth. (Bob King / / 3

Making up time and checking their punch lists, the Duluth Transit Authority and its partners are working feverishly this holiday season to bring their $30 million project to completion.

Originally scheduled to open this month, the Multimodal Transportation Center on Michigan Street downtown has seen its unveiling delayed until a Jan. 7 grand opening followed by the start of operations Jan. 10, said Jim Heilig, DTA’s director of planning and administration.

Elevator inspections were taking place this week. Handrails for a grand staircase between the skywalk and main terminal were being fabricated. Terrazzo floors and the facilities’ lights and cameras were being installed. Parking revenue control mechanisms are being brought online.

“There’s a lot of different things happening at once,” Heilig said.

Some of the 410 public access parking spaces will be available for use in early January. Some of the signage — like the real-time signs in the bus bays that will give riders a countdown to arrivals — will not be available right away. The Duluth Police Department will move into its new satellite office and both Jefferson Lines and Indian Trails — bus lines that reach out to the greater Northland and Michigan, respectively — will move into their terminals.

As the DTA awaits finishing touches that will make it easier for users to move about the center, it will furnish the early days of operation with extra staffing.

“We want extra manpower down there to help explain in simple terms, ‘Here’s how you catch this bus or that bus,’” Heilig said. “We want to get people indoctrinated and start it off with that personal touch first.”

Passengers will catch eastbound DTA buses under a canopied stop along Michigan Street. Westbound riders will catch their buses inside the facility, where the buses will skirt out to Third Avenue West down the facility’s exit ramp.

Duluth police say they are eager to rejoin the hustle and bustle of downtown, creating the opportunity for better community engagement.

“We’ll be able to better serve the citizens of Duluth with walk-up traffic to our staffed desk,” said Lt. Chad Nagorski, who added that the department will experience an uptick in efficiency, too. “Our downtown and Hillside officers will no longer have to drive over the hill to complete reports and access our network.”

In addition to shipping delays with the facility’s signage, the center experienced a setback earlier this fall when workers dug up the street in an effort to bring steam lines and other infrastructure into the Multimodal Transportation Center. A city storm sewer was discovered to have a large hole that had been leaking for some time, Heilig said. The city authorized the site’s main contractor, Mortenson Construction, to repair the line — a complex fix that involved putting the storm sewer on pilings.

City engineer Cindy Voigt said the design-and-build aspect of the Multimodal Transportation Center — a plan-as-you-go process necessitated, in part, by the confined urban environment — has been responsible for some of the setbacks.

“You have a design-and-build project that’s not something we’ve entertained much in Duluth,” Voigt said. “Changing things and getting that final project out on time — you’re going to have some setbacks. I think it went pretty well. The biggest impact was on the businesses on Michigan Street; they’ve been extremely patient with the road closures.”

The south facade of the building that faces Interstate 35 won’t be completed until later. And the new skywalk that will ultimately be the official entrance into the Multimodal Transit Center won’t be open until the end of January or early February. The skywalk traverses Michigan Street and accesses the existing transit center on the 200 block of West Superior Street.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation considers skywalks bridges, necessitating one of a bevy of legal agreements the DTA has had to finalize in advance of the center’s opening.

So while Heilig said there is “tons of excitement” within the DTA, he’s too busy to get wrapped up in anticipation quite yet.

“My excitement will probably come when things are operational and all the bureaucratic stuff is wrapped up,” he said, still double-checking his punch list.