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Can of worms rebuild looms over MnDOT construction season

The Twin Ports Interchange in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood. (file / News Tribune)

More than 30 road and bridge projects valued at $70 million will unfold throughout Northeastern Minnesota beginning this spring, including a few stretches eclipsing 20 miles of resurfaced roadway.

But the $342 million Twin Ports Interchange Reconstruction Project set to begin in 2020 looms over even this upcoming road construction season.

In Duluth, a cluster of roadways serving the interchange will be resurfaced and improved in preparation for increased use throughout the rebuild of what is known locally as the "can of worms."

"We're starting to prepare for our Twin Ports Interchange project this summer," said district engineer Duane Hill at Thursday's annual Minnesota Department of Transportation construction season kickoff event. "We have a number of local street improvements that MnDOT is going to be overseeing and funding."

Railroad Street and Garfield Avenue, favorite reroutes for people traveling over the Blatnik Bridge between Duluth and Superior, will be resurfaced. The freeway exits at 27th and 46th avenues west will also be resurfaced, Hill said. St. Louis County has coordinated its own resurfacing project at the 40th Avenue West exit.

Hill said MnDOT learned travelers' alternate patterns during the 2010-11 super project which rebuilt I-35 coming into Duluth.

"We know where traffic got deflected," Hill said. "So we know Railroad Street and Garfield Avenue took a lot of extra traffic. We want to make sure that people who do deflect off I-35 and 535 and Highway 53 have a street that's in good condition."

The road improvements surrounding the can of worms interchange are scheduled to begin in June at a cost of $3.6 million. The projects will conclude in time to help alleviate traffic during the single-lane I-35 closures which are scheduled to occur as part of 2020 work on the Twin Ports Interchange. That four-year project is set to conclude in 2023.

Among the other projects Hill highlighted during his introduction to the road construction season were a series of extended resurfacing projects:

• A $6.5 million resurfacing project on Highway 65 between Big Sandy Lake and Pengilly. The project will feature more than 45 miles of new pavement.

• A $8 million project on Highway 135 ending around Embarrass, with 20 miles of new road surface.

• An $8.4 million resurfacing project on Highway 6 ending around Big Falls, Minn., with 25 miles of new roadway.

Hill said the local district, on average, funds $500 million worth of projects across any given four-year period. That number will jump to $800 million from 2020-23 with the addition of the Twin Ports Interchange.

"The can of worms project — all of the funding for that project came in over and above what we have in our typical program," Hill said.

Not all projects feature delays, flaggers and lane closures. There are a number of smaller projects between $500,000 and $2 million that will replace culverts, bridges and make traffic signal improvements.

In those cases, "we'll be working in one small location," Hill said, "and not disrupting traffic patterns."

Hill suggested motorists consult 511mn.org prior to making travel plans.

"It's a really good resource everybody in the public should know about," he said.

Overall, travelers can be expected to feel the impact of road work across the state.

"Big picture," Hill said, "there's going to be a number of projects on each of the interstate corridors. If you're traveling on I-35, I-94 or I-90, it's going to be really difficult traveling."