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The road less traveled

Fri, Dec 2nd, 2005
Posted in Commentary

When I used to travel into the remote areas of southwest China in the 90s, it was common to meet villagers who would donate one day per month to work on public projects. In mountainous Yunnan Province, villagers would set off with their hoes, shovels and other odd implements to repair a road, unclog a drainage ditch or repair a cistern at a watering hole. The people took pride in this communal labor and, in areas where resources were tight, it might be the only way the work got done.

Well, the thought has occurred to me lately that this might be the only way we get Hwy 52 between Highway 16 East and West open this year - put out a call for able-bodied men and women to give a day of labor painting stripes and pounding in fence posts.

Much of the new highway has sat idle waiting for signage, paint striping and other odds and ends to be done. On the section between County Road 12 near Preston and Hwy 16 East near Preston Equipment, almost nothing has been done the past few weeks, apart for some landscaping.

Rumors abound of course:

The signs are back-ordered two weeks, or is it three? (The contractor supposedly forgot to order signs).

They cant paint stripes because it has to be 58 degrees, or is it 40? (They will put down temporary stripes and re-do them in the spring).

The road is closed unless youre local. (Which means that if you consider yourself local you have been using the road for some time now anyway).

This would all be funny, if it werent for the inconvenience these delays are causing the public. It has been very costly to businesses along the Hwy 52 corridor who have dealt with detours for the past six months. And now with the holidays coming they must continue to wait for the road to officially open.

Especially hurt are those business located between Hwy 16 West and Fountain who will have to endure a second year of construction next year as the project fell far short of completion. The decision to go from Preston to Fountain this year was the wrong one, something most old timers could have predicted. According to MnDOT, Ulland Brothers, the contractor on the project, faces up to $5000 a day in fines next spring, once the weight limits are lifted, for each day the project isnt finished.

But the most frustrating part about the delays has been the seemingly lack of urgency by MnDOT and Ulland Brothers to get the highway open and available to the public. Whenever they have been asked a question the answer has always been in two weeks. Well, the two weeks are long up.

We all know the new road will be a great improvement once it gets open. But unlike ROC 52, which finished a year early, the Preston 52 project will take an extra year to get done. Right now the word is that the completed part of the road will officially open the week of December 12. Until then, just call it the road less traveled.

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