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Next up for Duluth infrastructure: Central Entrance

A two-year project beginning in 2026 will be used to remake a major Duluth traffic artery notoriously bad for pedestrians.

Plans to reconstruct Central Entrance in Duluth are underway
A pedestrian is crowded by vehicles while crossing Central Entrance at Arlington Avenue on March 1 in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The Twin Ports Interchange, Blatnik Bridge and London Road are some of the major infrastructure projects between now and 2028, and Central Entrance can be added to the list.

Beginning in 2026, the artery between downtown Duluth and the Miller Hill Mall area will undergo a total reconstruction. A 2.4-mile stretch of what is also Minnesota Highway 194 will be rebuilt from Mesaba Avenue downtown to the intersection with Trinity Road by the mall.

Plans to reconstruct Central Entrance in Duluth are underway
Looking south from Arlington Avenue down Central Entrance.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“It seems early, but we can’t wait until the final design to understand the desires of the (business) corridor and community,” said Doug Kerfeld, of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Kerfeld is a project manager based in Duluth. He’s overseeing the Central Entrance project and preparing to launch into community engagement efforts this spring and summer, including surveys and public meetings.

Projected to cost up to $16.5 million, the Central Entrance rebuild is a venture among MnDOT, St. Louis County and the city of Duluth. The Duluth Transit Authority, which is planning rapid, train-mimicking service along the route, is also part of the planning process.

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“The DTA has a large interest in the corridor,” Kerfeld said. “They have very high ridership along Central Entrance.”

Plans to reconstruct Central Entrance in Duluth are underway
Central Entrance near Arlington Avenue in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Those riders become pedestrians at some point, and the four lanes of Central Entrance are notoriously daunting for pedestrians, who also encounter gaps in the north sidewalk along the route.

“Making it better for pedestrians is absolutely one of the big things about the project,” said James Gittemeier, senior transportation planner with the city of Duluth.

It’s too soon to tell if planners will use pedestrian bridges or enhanced ground-level crossings, but “everything is on the table,” Kerfeld said.

Major projects
Stories related to major infrastructure projects in Duluth
Roundabouts and walkways may be coming to the busy stretch of road.

“Crossing Central Entrance is currently not safe with the current roadway format,” Kerfeld said. “One of the major priorities is to address the non-motorized needs of the corridor.”

The city of Duluth will replace utilities along the route in conjunction with the roadway work. The added work likely means parts of Central Entrance will be under construction for two summers, said both Kerfeld and Gittemeier, who confirmed talks with the DTA about a higher level of service along the route.

“Looking at whether some level of bus rapid transit can be implemented on Central Entrance is very much part of the discussion,” Gittemeier said of the platform-based service of rapid busing.

Plans to reconstruct Central Entrance in Duluth are underway
The road leading to the former Central High School seen at the intersection of Central Entrance and Pecan Avenue.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

One new factor to consider about rebuilding Central Entrance: the future residents living in 443 units of new housing where Central High School used to be. Rebuilding the intersection leading to the Central development, at Pecan Avenue, will be part of the project, and those residents figure to add new dynamics once housing is constructed in phases across the next five years.

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“That’s going to change the look, feel and traffic patterns,” Kerfeld said.

Plans to reconstruct Central Entrance in Duluth are underway
A street sign for Central Entrance.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Kerfeld noted it won’t be long before the public can weigh in on surveys and engagement meetings.

“We’re hoping this coming summer and for the next year to year-and-a-half to have extensive public engagement and conversation with the community,” Kerfeld said, sensitive to existing neighborhoods served by the trunk highway. “We really want to hear about the wants and needs for the corridor, and the shortcomings of the existing roadway.”

Plans to reconstruct Central Entrance in Duluth are underway
Instructions for pedestrians crossing the intersection or Arlington Avenue and Central Entrance.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Plans to reconstruct Central Entrance in Duluth are underway
A car travels through the intersection of Pecan Avenue and Central Entrance.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Plans to reconstruct Central Entrance in Duluth are underway
A turn lane on Pecan Avenue to access Central Entrance.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Plans to reconstruct Central Entrance in Duluth are underway
The intersection of Pecan Avenue and Central Entrance in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Brady Slater is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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