Off and running on Broadway
“We’re very excited. We’re very happy. It will be a great thing for Alexandria.”
Those words from Mayor Sara Carlson Monday morning kicked off the Broadway reconstruction project that will dramatically change the look – and traffic flow – in Alexandria this summer.
The upbeat ceremony included remarks from those who have been working closely on the project for several years.
As the festivities were taking place, heavy equipment started chewing up a five-block section of Broadway from just south of Third Avenue to Eighth Avenue.
Detour signs are in place, directing traffic off of Broadway and onto the side streets one block east and one block west. All the businesses in the construction zone area will remain open and accessible throughout the entire project.
Jody Martinson, district engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), noted that the state started talking about the Broadway project in 2010.
Initially, MnDOT was just planning to overlay the road, which also serves as a state highway. But after hearing the city’s suggestions to make the road safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, and about the need to replace aging underground sewer and water lines, MnDOT realized there was an opportunity to do much more.
“Suddenly, we had a very big project on our hands,” she said.
City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said that project is the culmination of more than five years of planning, dozens of meetings and constant communication with downtown businesses and citizens. “It’s a great day,” he said. “It’s been a really long time coming.”
Schoonhoven gave a timeline of the project: Along with the local traffic detour signs that are in place, truck route detours are in effect on County Roads 45 and 46. The project will begin just north of Third Avenue and proceed south. One crew was working on removing asphalt on Monday but three crews are expected to be hard at it by the end of the week.
The road construction project will be completed in three phases. The first phase will take place from Third Avenue to just short of Sixth Avenue and is scheduled to be completed by July 3. The second phase during the month of July will focus on the Sixth Avenue intersection. Then, in August and September, the third phase will include work on Broadway from Sixth to Eighth Avenues. The project is scheduled to wrap up in October.
Some of the water and sewer lines that will be dug up are expected to be 50 to 75 years old or maybe even older than that, Schoonhoven said, adding that he’s seen a photo showing a crew digging a line under Broadway during the Depression era.
Several times during Monday’s ceremony, which was broadcast live on KXRA Radio’s Open Line program, city leaders emphasized that the downtown businesses will be open all summer long and events will go on as scheduled.
“Every business will be open,” Carlson said. “So please come downtown and keep shopping downtown.”
Martinson added that drivers should remember to be safe, slow down and pay attention while going through detours and construction zones.
Jeff Meland, president of the Downtown Merchants Association, said that most DMA members are positive about the project. He said there are some concerns about getting through a summer-long construction project, but added that the long-term benefits of the project make it worthwhile.
Sarah Stadtherr, director of the Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality, said the project will not only make the downtown area safer, but also make Alexandria more of a destination for out-of-town visitors. Drivers will slow down and look at the storefronts, she said.
“Change is good,” Stadtherr said.
Several downtown business owners also voiced their support for the project Monday, including Kathleen Pohlig of Cherry Street Books, Dan Botner of Creative Touch Gallery and Charlie Vernlund with Charlie’s Bazaar.
“We’re so excited to start this project,” said Vernlund. “The downtown is the face of the community...We hope out-of-town people will come back and see the transformation that’s taking place.”