St. Louis County gears up for $50 million in summer road projects

Coronavirus puts new spin on an 'ambitious' construction campaign.

St. Louis Cty road projects.jpg

St. Louis County will pour $50 million into more than 100 road and bridge projects starting later this spring.

Matt Hemmila, the deputy director for engineering in Public Works, described it as "an ambitious program," especially given uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Hemmila wasn't ready to guarantee lower traffic volumes by the time construction gears up for an anticipated mid-May start, after road restrictions are lifted.

"At this point, we haven’t made any changes to construction schedules," Hemmila said. "It’s difficult to know what impacts this pandemic will have over the summer."

The June-through-August construction peak will see 108 total projects, including eight bridge replacements, 50 miles of pavement resurfacing, 160 miles of preventative maintenance such as chip sealing and scrub sealing, 122 miles of gravel road investment projects and 0.7 miles of full urban road reconstruction.


Among the highlights of the season:

  • Full urban reconstruction of County State Aid Highway 155 (James Street) in Ely from Central Avenue to Eighth Avenue.
  • Full reconstruction of County Bridge 906 on CSAH 61 (North Shore Drive) over the French River, and reconstruction and improvements of the adjacent wayside rest area. The project will close Highway 61 for three months.
  • Intersection improvements on CSAH 4 (Rice Lake Road) at West Arrowhead/Arlington Avenue from 800 feet south of West Arrowhead to 1,600 feet north of Technology Drive. There will be a significant disruption to traffic.
  • Completion of the 2019 Woodland Avenue reconstruction project, including road resurfacing of East Calvary Road, Arnold Road and First Avenue North.
  • Addition of turn lanes on Trunk Highway 37 in Cherry at the intersection of Trunk Highway 37 and CSAH 25, near the Cherry School. This intersection has been a safety concern for some time and has a documented crash history.
  • Resurfacing 16.4 miles of CSAH 7 outside of Cotton, from CSAH 52 (Arkola Road) north to Trunk Highway 37.

"Since this is a new situation for all of us, it’s difficult to predict the effect on traffic volumes this will have come summer," Hemmila said.
He described how Public Works was reviewing its normal construction inspection practices to look for alternatives that would reduce the risk of spreading the virus on the job site.

"In addition to social distancing where possible, we’re also inquiring with other local agencies and Minnesota Department of Transportation to collaborate on potential changes and hopefully develop a list of best practices for our field staff to follow," he said.

Some of the items Public Works was looking at were a reduction in face-to-face meetings, moving to more digital communication, and reducing the exchange of paper documentation such as delivery tickets. Hemmila called county staff involved in construction inspection and administration a dedicated group which he suspects will perform admirably.

"We hope to have some recommendations in place before the start of construction in mid-May," Hemmila said. "We are very fortunate to have the staff that we do and will do everything we can to help keep them as safe as possible."

St. Louis County is responsible for 3,000 miles of roads and bridges within its jurisdiction. Projects are paid for using a combination of State Aid and Federal Highway funds, along with revenue from the Transportation Sales Tax — a 0.5% sales tax that raises an estimated $10.5 million annually to be invested exclusively in transportation-related projects.

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