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Willmar businesses gear up for Highway 12 construction project

Bill Knofczynski, left, and Paul Rasmussen, from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s District 8 office in Willmar, explain the Highway 12 reconstruction project and detours to area businesses during an informational meeting Thursday. The project is expected to begin July 7. A meeting for the general public will be held 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the MnDOT headquarters. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR — When reconstruction of a one-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 12 starts next month on the east side of Willmar, the road work and detours will affect some of the nearly 70 businesses located along the route, especially those that draw foot traffic off the highway.

“Obviously, it’s a pretty serious inconvenience,” said David Feist, general manager for Torgerson Properties, which includes the Best Western Plus, Willmar Conference Center, Holiday Inn Express and Suites and Days Inn.

During the summer months, Feist estimates the business brings 5,000 customers a month down the highway.

But for the next four months, construction crews will be on the highway ripping up the old pavement and putting down a fresh surface.

The project extends across the Highway 71/23 bypass bridge.

Access will be maintained to businesses during the entire length of the project, which is expected to be completed in November, but there will be a detour in place for the first two months.

“It’ll be a little challenging to get our guests to our front door,” said Feist. “But we’ll roll with it.”

During a Thursday morning meeting, the Minnesota Department of Transportation met with business representatives to answer questions about the $3 million project and to assure them that MnDOT will try to help ease the pain of having construction take place near their doorstep.

MnDOT will “make it as least inconvenient as possible,” said Paul Rasmussen, resident engineer at MnDOT’s District 8 headquarters.

“We can’t promise you the moon,” said MnDOT communications director Judy Jacobs. But she said proper signage, store promotions, good communications with vendors and customers and setting a “positive tone” about the project can “keep people coming to your door.”

The project, which stretches a half-mile to the west and a half-mile to the east of the Highway 71/23 bypass bridge, will be split into two stages.  

During the first stage on the east end of the zone, a detour will be in place that begins near the town of Kandiyohi that will take traffic down Kandiyohi County Road 8 to County Road 23/Willmar Avenue and to Highway 71/23 to link back to Highway 12.

Because the detour begins five miles away from the actual construction zone, signs will be posted that allow vehicles to continue down Highway 12 to reach several businesses in that area, like Fancy Pets Grooming and Haug-Kubota, before reaching an area where the road will be closed.

The second stage of the project will take place west of the bypass.

Bill Knofczynski, MnDOT project supervisor, said the best way to keep commerce operating during a highway construction project is by getting the word out.

An open house for the general public will be Tuesday to present details about the project.

That meeting will be from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the MnDOT District 8 headquarters building, 2505 Transportation Road in Willmar.

MnDOT will hold weekly update meetings to keep businesses and the public informed about progress, said Jacobs.

Feist said having a new surface on Highway 12 will be an improvement from the current maze of potholes. But he said it’s disappointing that the project is only maintenance work and does not “lay the groundwork” with additional turning lanes for future improvements.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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