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Rocky road ahead if we fail to pull together

A public meeting last Thursday laid out the facts about this summer's major reconstruction of the Highway 33/Big Lake Road interchange and the corridor from I-35 to Doddridge Avenue.

Anyone who lives in or has spent any time in this area will know that stretch of roadway lies at the very heart of the everyday lives of all of us. It's been both a bane and a blessing for years — bringing tourist trade and business clientele into the community (rather than skirting around it, as was once proposed) and at the same time creating a hornet's nest of congestion and confusion.

This project is long overdue, and despite the undeniable truth that it will create considerable upheaval over the course of the coming months, it should be welcomed with open arms as a much-needed improvement.

Much like the major reconstruction of another of the community's major tributaries — Cloquet Avenue in the downtown business district — in 1997, it stands to disrupt business and inconvenience commuters. But lessons can be learned from that Cloquet Avenue experience. At the time of construction in that project, most business establishments were only accessible through their back doors. The dirt, noise and congestion of the street work disrupted employees and discouraged customers. But everyone pulled together to make the best out of a bad situation. The city issued frequent and consistent updates on what folks could expect from week to week — and sometimes day to day — as well as when they would be able to get through where. Merchants came up with special sales to lure hardy shoppers downtown and customers often made a concerted effort to patronize those businesses even though it was an inconvenience.

And yes, the project did hurt sales and business. There's no real way around it. But the merchants survived and the customers came back, and Cloquet Avenue was all that much the better for it.

As this summer's road project gets underway next month, it will require a good deal of tolerance and determination. There will be times when you can't get to where you want to be — at a least not all that easily. There will be times when previously quiet neighborhoods will be plagued by traffic skirting around the project. There will be times when we'll question if it's worth the sacrifice and tempers will flare.

And let's not forget about the businesses who will be in the heart of it and who stand to get hurt the most during the detours and the accompanying chaos. Make certain you continue to support those businesses as much as possible, and be tolerant of the inconvenience. The area will be safer and the traffic flow will be more streamlined and efficient because of it. And the community of Cloquet will no longer look like a wide spot in the road, but the modern, updated community that it already is.

Wendy Johnson