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Mild weather may lead to summer completion for Paynesville, Minn., bypass

In this 2011 photo, construction crews continue working on the state Highway 23 bypass, a project that will eventually move highway traffic around Paynesville instead of through it. Tribune photo

WILLMAR -- The Paynesville bypass on state Highway 23 should be finished sometime this summer.

Work will begin this summer, too, on two stretches of U.S. Highway 212 west of Montevideo, part of an ongoing effort to improve Highway 212 to the South Dakota border.

These west central Minnesota projects will be part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation's 2012 construction plan, which will cost $1.1 billion and include 316 projects around the state.

Commissioner Thomas Sorel said the projects will create thousands of jobs in construction crews and for suppliers and vendors. Sorel spoke in a statewide videoconference Thursday morning. District 8 transportation officials were available to answer questions in the district office in Willmar.

"The transportation system is very much a key to the economic engine of our state," Sorel said.

A wide variety of projects are included in the plan, addressing all aspects of the state's multi-modal transportation system, he said.

Two public meetings are planned for the Montevideo area project: from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Montevideo Community Center and from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Dawson City Hall. MnDOT and Duininck Inc. staffers will be available to provide information on the construction schedule and detour route.

The project is scheduled to begin in early May and is broken into two segments. It is expected to be completed in three to four months.

The project will be done in separate segments. Their locations are Highway 212 from U.S. Highway 75 to the east end of Dawson; Lac qui Parle County Road 35 to the east junction of U.S. Highway 59; and Highway 75 from one-half mile south to one mile north of Highway 212.

The Paynesville bypass is scheduled to be done by the end of August, said Bill Knofczynski, a MnDOT project supervisor in Willmar. However, the contractor is currently ahead of schedule because of the mild winter and spring.

"They're hoping to open it early, but I couldn't give you a date," he said, as weather could still delay some of the final work.

The two-lane section of Highway 23 between Paynesville and New London is expected to remain that way for some time, said Patrick Weidemann, planning director for District 8.

"It's not on the 10-year horizon," he said. The department has spent a lot of money on the bypass, he said, and needs to concentrate on some of its other needs for the next few years.

District Engineer Jon Huseby said an updated bidding process has allowed contractors to submit bids for asphalt or concrete paving. Bids are awarded based on a long-term cost of the road. In some cases, concrete costs more initially but its longer life makes it a cost-effective alternative.

Noting that there may be more concrete projects on the list than normal, he said, "It was dependent on the bid whether the surface ended up as concrete of asphalt."

Asphalt prices are beginning to increase to reflect higher oil prices, Knofczynski said.

District 8 will be using a new concrete paving method this year, too, he said.

Stringless paving places the concrete on the road bed using GPS rather than stakes and string as a guide. "It's never been done in Minnesota before," he said, though it has been used in other states.

Huseby said the process should save time and labor, too.

During the statewide conference, Lt. Eric Roeske, public information officer for the Minnesota State Patrol, warned drivers to pay attention to their surroundings and obey speed limits when driving through construction zones.

"The margin for error is much smaller than on an open roadway," he said. In the past four years, there have been 37 fatalities and thousands of crashes in construction zones.

Roeske also reminded people approaching a lane closure to use a zipper merge maneuver, staying in the lane that will close until it actually closes, then merging into the other lane. The practice helps reduce traffic backups in construction zones, he said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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