Memorial Day Weekend now in the books, “Orange Cone Season” is here with all its lane-narrowed, curse-the-traffic pains in our bumpers.
You might think a city that complains about potholes as much as Duluth does would welcome and celebrate this time of year when, finally, the roads can be repaired. You'd think we'd all merrily remember that "the road to success is always under construction," as actress and comedian Lily Tomlin once reportedly said.
Fat chance — especially this year, which “is shaping up to be the busiest road construction season Duluth has ever seen,” as the city announced in a statement in April. So busy that the city, partnering with others, created a new interactive website, constructduluth.org, to help motorists, residents, visitors, and others keep track of it all. The site includes construction updates in real-time, parking tips, detour details, project timelines, and even job opportunities in all the work.
The city of Duluth, with funding from its voter-approved half-percent sales tax specifically for street repairs, has 26 projects lined up this year. A total of 12.2 miles, the city told the News Tribune Opinion page Friday, will see overlays, reclamations, and reconstructions, from North Lake Avenue to Burning Tree Road and from 93rd Avenue West to Vermilion Road. In addition, there’ll be storm repairs and upgrades, mostly at intersections, to help those with handicaps get around.
From behind our windshields, we might think Duluth’s epicenter of chaos this construction season is at Essentia Health’s three-year, $800 million Vision Northland project. Already, work there has closed three streets: Second Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues East, Fourth Avenue East between Superior Street and East Second Street, and First Street between Fourth and Seventh Avenues East.
But even nastier traffic snarls this construction season will be in the Lincoln Park Business District — pretty much the whole Lincoln Park Business District. There are so many detours there already that a motorist could easily become confused and drive in circles. The construction of an apartment building on West Superior Street, the $343 million Twin Ports Interchange project, and more have lanes narrowed, sidewalks eliminated, and several roads closed or closing throughout the district. A total of eight different detours are expected over a three-year period, including the diversion of Interstate 35 traffic onto Lower Michigan Street beginning this fall, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Additionally, St. Louis County has 120 road and bridge projects on tap in Duluth and countywide this summer and autumn, the News Tribune reported in April. Like Duluth, the county collects a half-percent sales tax specifically for such work and is also bonding this year and tapping into state and federal aid and other funding sources. The expectation is an investment of $64 million to replace 14 bridges, resurface 76 miles of county roads, do preventative maintenance on another 83 miles, and improve 25 miles of gravel roads this year.
In Northeastern Minnesota, in addition to the Twin Ports Interchange project, the state has $103.7 million of road-construction work this year. Eight projects are carryovers from 2020, with another 20 projects to be launched — “from U.S. Highway 53 in International Falls all the way south to state Highway 123 in Sandstone,” as the News Tribune reported this spring. “Both (those) places feature the reconstruction of highways that also serve as downtown streets for their communities.”
"There are a lot of communities impacted by this year's construction program,” MnDOT District Engineer Duane Hill said in the April 10 News Tribune. “To them the big project is in their backyard."
That rings true for all of us. It's a lot, all this road work this year, but the most bothersome will be what alters our drive to church, the supermarket, or elsewhere. As in past “Orange Cone Seasons,” patience will be paramount, with reminders to ourselves that the end result will be worth it.
Unless you actually like complaining about potholes and rough roads.