Completion near for U.S. 71 project north of Willmar
WILLMAR — Motorists who have spent the summer coping with the U.S. Highway 71 detour north of Willmar will have to be patient a little longer — but the end is in sight.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation said this week that the $6 million project should be complete by Sept. 12. Final paving work and sign installation are scheduled for next week.
The detour, which extends from the state Highway 23 split between Willmar and Spicer to just north of state Highway 9 near Sibley State Park, has been in effect since mid-May, creating a summer of headaches for travelers on one of Kandiyohi County's main north-south arteries. A late start in the spring, coupled with a wet construction season, also slowed completion of the project beyond its initial end date.
Crews are working over the Labor Day weekend, weather permitting, to speed the work along, MnDOT said.
Along with announcing the impending end of construction in September, MnDOT has some further welcome news. All of the key intersections along Highway 71 are now open, just in time for the holiday weekend.
There could be traffic delays at some intersections while work continues on the highway, MnDOT said. Flaggers will be present to direct traffic and drivers could encounter delays of up to 10 minutes.
Motorists will experience a slightly different road surface once the project is done. On Sept. 10, weather permitting, MnDOT plans to start chip sealing the highway.
Chip sealing is a type of paving material that mixes asphalt with pieces of gravel. A thin layer of liquid asphalt is sprayed on first, followed by the placement of gravel. The gravel is then compacted and the excess stone is swept from the surface.
This method of surfacing is meant to preserve the highway at a lower cost. It also should help extend the lifespan of the roadway by slowing deterioration from aging, sunlight, water and traffic wear and tear.
In hot weather, chip seals flow back together to re-seal cracks. And as a safety bonus, this type of road surface is more resistant to skids.
Once the chip seals are in place, the road surface will look, feel and sound different, MnDOT advised.
Chip seals lend a rough, rocky appearance to the road and are generally bulkier than asphalt. They may appear red or purple due to the type of stone used.
Drivers will also notice that chip seals are not as quiet as new pavement. Bicyclists will experience an increase in vibration from the rough surface. After a winter of plowing, the vehicle noise will diminish and the road will not sound as loud, MnDOT said.
Along with resurfacing, MnDOT is adding left- and right-turn lanes, a bypass lane and a pedestrian underpass to improve safety and traffic flow.
Meanwhile, more traffic delays are ahead farther north on U.S. 71, from Highway 9 to state Highway 55. Starting Tuesday, traffic on this stretch will be reduced to one lane while crews work on a resurfacing project that began Aug. 13. The lane reduction is expected to last up to three weeks.
Flagging operations will be present, with a pilot car directing traffic through the work zone. Motorists should plan for short delays.
A width restriction will also be in place. Vehicles that exceed the twelve-foot limit should seek alternate routes or contact Construction Supervisor Al Setrum at 320-894-7424.