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Highway 33 construction amps up

The Highway 33 reconstruction project through Cloquet is in its eighth week and is running about a week behind, mostly because the concrete pavers arrived late, according to Jim Sorenson, Highway 33 project supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“I think we’ll be able to make it up,” Sorenson said Tuesday, on an unofficial tour of the Highway 33 project from Selmser Avenue to Interstate 35 in Cloquet. Although the project won’t be completely finished until October, he said traffic patterns are expected to go back to normal Sept. 12 after both the southbound and northbound lanes of the highway are reconstructed with concrete.

Other changes along the highway are becoming more visible now. The retaining wall between Perkin’s restaurant and Big Lake Road is mostly finished — with a top railing and bushes yet to be placed — and a new sidewalk is going in below the wall very soon.

When it’s completed, the intersection will be much more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, with sidewalks on all four corners and an island between the northbound and southbound lanes of the highway where people crossing can stop safely.

Big Lake Road will have four lanes where it meets Highway 33 when the project is finished: one going up the hill and three going down, including a left, straight ahead and right turn lane. There will also be left and right turn lanes into the Pine Tree Plaza parking lot, whose entrance was moved about 20 feet up the roadway to allow for more cars to line up by the traffic light, Sorenson said.

The project supervisor noted that business owners along the busy roadway have been remarkably patient at the weekly meetings he holds for business owners.

“Mike McKinney (whose family owns the Little Stores, including the one at the intersection of Highway 33 and Doddridge Avenue) has probably been the most affected, but he’s been great,” Sorenson said.

There are a few drivers, however, who need to take a deep breath and resist the urge to honk their horns when traffic is congested or they’re waiting to exit a business.

Over the next couple of weeks there will be lots of action on the project, Sorenson said.

While handwork (on more challenging sections and intersections) for concrete has already begun, the concrete pavers will begin working on the mainline, or main ribbon of pavement, this Friday or Saturday, Sorenson said. They will start on the north end of Highway 33 near the intersection with Selmser Avenue and work their way south to the bottom of the ramp from I-35.

“Concrete lasts longer, and costs a little more initially,” he said, comparing the new surface to the current blacktop surface. “It doesn’t pothole as much either, but when it does need repair, it’s quite expensive.”

Look for increased truck traffic as a result, he warned.

subhed: Walmart entrance to close for a week

Just after midnight Wednesday, Aug. 5, workers will close the Gillette Road entrance to Wal-Mart and other east side businesses for a seven-day period while they do the concrete work for that intersection. Two-way traffic in the southbound lanes of Highway 33 will continue, and people will still be able to access the businesses on the west side of the highway. However, traffic will be routed to the intersection with Doddridge Avenue and the frontage road there to access Wal-Mart and surrounding businesses. Drivers can also use 14th Street to Stanley Avenue to access businesses in that area.

Sorenson said closing Wal-Mart for seven days is better than how workers have to handle the Doddridge and Big Lake Road intersection in order to keep it open.

“That intersection [by Super One] won’t be completely done until around Sept. 7, because they have to pour the concrete on the other side in a checkerboard fashion so the traffic is OK,” he explained.

MnDOT is also adding a right-turn lane into the south end of Gillette Road, as well as a dedicated left turn lane at the same location.

“The right turn lane will be a big safety improvement over people using the shoulder like they do now,” said Sorenson.

A resident of the Cloquet area and a 24-year employee of MnDOT, Sorenson is also personally excited for the project to be complete.

“[The highway] was in such rough condition, I was pushing for it to get done a little earlier than we got to it,” he said. “But it’s going to be a very nice improvement for Cloquet.”