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Road construction season coming: I-35, Mesaba Avenue, Superior Street, Highway 169 will have delays

Road construction season is nearly upon the Northland. MNDOT on Wednesday announced a $1.1 billion statewide road construction agenda for 2018 that includes major projects on I-35, Highway 169 and Mesaba Avenue. News Tribune file photo.

Get ready for Minnesota's next season — road construction — with orange barrels, flaggers, closed lanes and delays coming across Northeastern Minnesota in exchange for promised better roads and safer bridges.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation on Wednesday unveiled its upcoming construction season plans that include $1.1 billion in projects statewide and 29 projects worth more than $98.5 million across eight counties in Northeastern Minnesota.

Most projects will start in mid-May, said District Engineer Duane Hill, although some I-35 work will start in mid-April.

Hill reminded drivers to plan ahead, check — the state's quick reference for construction backups — and to slow down in construction zones. "That's the office of our construction workers and construction inspectors," Hill noted.

The biggest projects, also likely to bring drivers the biggest headaches, include:

  • Interstate 35 in Pine County — through October. Seven miles of the freeway will be ripped up and redone with new concrete and a new bridge built over the Snake River. Traffic will be rerouted onto one side of the freeway, down to one lane in each direction, and major delays are expected, especially on Friday evenings and Sundays as Twin Cities tourists head north and then home, Hill said. "We want people to plan ahead to avoid those peak periods,'' he noted.
  • Another I-35 project in the Twin Cities district will see several lanes closed and likely long backups at peak traffic times between Forest Lake and the 35W/35E split, a seven-mile stretch — through 2019. The work will stretch over two summers and may see single-lane traffic in each direction at times.
  • Highway 33 at Interstate 35 in Cloquet — through October. A troublesome spot that has seen two fatal accidents and several other severe injuries in recent years is getting a roundabout in an effort to avoid turning traffic from having to cross high-speed oncoming traffic. There will be some lane closures and the northbound ramp from Highway 33 to I-35 will be temporarily detoured.
  • Mesaba Avenue in downtown Duluth — through October — between I-35 and Central Entrance. The work includes pavement repair, new sidewalks and a new bridge over Superior Street. Mesaba will always have at least one lane open in each direction.
  • Superior Street in western downtown, part of a three-year project. This is a city project but will still cause major detours and impair access to businesses. Duluth Mayor Emily Larson on Wednesday referred to it as "the front door of our city'' that will be shut for a while. Detours will be marked, but there will be no access to Superior Street from I-35 or Mesaba Avenue, so drivers will have to use the city's side door for while. Be patient, Larson urged during Minnesota's upcoming "inconvenient season'' and think of how nice the new roads will be.
  • U.S. Highway 2 ramps to the Bong Bridge — through October. Ramps will be closed entirely at times causing some detours.
  • Highway 61 in Two Harbors — through October. Work will include replacing traffic lights, adding turn lanes, resurfacing the highway, sidewalk and accessibility improvements and new entrance at Campground Road.
  • Highway 169 in Virginia — through October. Includes resurfacing roadway and bridge repairs. Traffic will be rerouted onto Hoover Road.
  • Highway 169 in Itasca County — through June. Another 1.5 miles of the so-called Cross Range Expressway will be completed, leaving about 8.4 miles to go before there's a continuous four-lane highway between Grand Rapids and Virginia.
  • Finishing touches on the new U.S. Highway 53 roadway and bridge between Eveleth and Virginia that saw the entire highway rerouted for mine expansion — through summer. Final work will see some lane closures.
  • Highway 169/1 in the Eagles Nest Township area between Tower and Ely — through late July. The complete road realignment work has been underway for several years. Expect lane closure and flaggers stopping traffic at times.
  • Highway 37 between U.S. Highway 53 and Highway 169 — through 2018. The cutover to Hibbing will see all new surface and lengthy lane closures.
  • Highway 38 in Itasca County will be resurfaced from near Pughole Lake to Marcell — through October. About 15 miles of the road will see detours, although local access will be allowed.
  • Highway 1 in Lake County between the Kawishiwi River and Isabella — through October. Road resurfacing will see lane closures and flaggers.