Photo: Reconfiguration of the Maple Grove-Highway 53 intersection will eliminate the option of driving straight across Miller Trunk to Sundby Road. Instead, the portion of Maple Grove Road east of Highway 53 will connect directly to Sundby Road, and westbound drivers can cross Highway 53 at Burning Tree Road. Amanda Hansmeyer/ ahansmeyer@duluthnews.com

A $24.5 million construction project will reconfigure the intersection between Maple Grove Road and U.S. Highway 53 this summer and will improve adjoining roads, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials told some of the merchants who will be most affected by the road work.

The work -- which will start within a few weeks -- also will involve periodic road closures, they acknowledged Thursday in a presentation to the Hermantown Area Chamber of Commerce.

Business operators had mixed feelings about the impending reality.

"The process is painful, but we have to keep our eyes on the goal," said Mike Lundstrom, executive director of the Hermantown Area Chamber of Commerce. "When we are out of the construction, the Miller Hill Mall area will be better-positioned."

A two-mile stretch of Maple Grove Road from about Westberg Road to Joshua Avenue will be rebuilt, and Highway 53 will be widened from about Joshua Avenue to Burning Tree Road. The project will be conducted in phases from April to November.

At Maple Grove Road, Highway 53 will have two west turn lanes and no connection to the east. In other words, if you're heading from the Target/Kmart area, you won't be able to cross Highway 53 directly to reach the Maya Family Mexican Restaurant and Kohl's.

The newly built Maple Grove Road east of Highway 53 will connect directly with Sundby Road, leading to a new intersection with Burning Tree Road and across Highway 53 toward Best Buy and Target.

Roberta Dwyer, a project manager with MnDOT, said changes were necessary to ease congestion and lessen accident totals at the busy intersection.

"When we are done, we will have a truly integrated transportation system through the region," Dwyer said.

The widening of Highway 53 will have little effect on traffic, said Craig Ploetz, the supervisor of Northland Constructors of Duluth, whose company will do the work. Two lanes of traffic will travel in each direction on southbound lanes from May to July, with traffic shifting to northbound lanes from August to October.

Coy Christmas and Tracy Hansen, owners of two new small businesses along Maple Grove Road, opened less than a year ago and said they're worried about losing customers during busy summer months.

"The construction will be 30 days here, 35 days there and 35 days there, and that will be very impactful for business," said Christmas, owner of Brag Game Rights, a video game store.

Hansen, the owner of Daisies and Daydreams, said the construction obstacles will occur when she planned to have open houses for discounts and sales. She said the construction is a call for creativity.

"It will make you challenge yourself," said Hansen, whose store sells home decorating items. "We'll have to come up with other marketing ideas."

Despite short-term inconveniences, both Christmas and Hansen said the new road will aid businesses in the long run.

"It will definitely be smoother in the long run," Christmas said. "More people will want to have business there, and it will be the road of roads."