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Echo Press Editorial: Support downtown area during summer road work

Work on the north end of Broadway was progressing quickly on Wednesday as crews removed asphalt. (Lowell Anderson/Echo Press)

The transformation of Alexandria’s downtown started this week.

Although that’s not entirely true. The initial planning for the Broadway reconstruction project stretches back at least five years and has been shifted and tweaked through the course of dozens of meetings, input from businesses and residents, comparing designs in other towns, and advice from engineers, safety experts and state transportation officials.

In other words, the prep work for this project has been a steady, ongoing process, not something that was rushed together with little foresight. But now all the plans are being put into action. Work has started on the four and a half block section of Broadway, between Third and Eighth Avenue. Heavy machinery started chewing up chunks of asphalt on Monday, the orange detour signs are in place and soon the “construction ahead” mindset will became part of driving in and around Broadway this summer.

Are some businesses nervous? Yes, and you can’t blame them. Their business lifeblood, a steady stream of customers, is on the line. They’re worried that some shoppers will just avoid the construction and take their business elsewhere.

But that does not have to happen. We encourage all local residents to keep shopping on Broadway throughout the construction. Access to every business will be open. All the familiar downtown events, the sidewalk sales, Crazy Days, Fall Festival, will go on as usual. The project is also being done in phases to minimize disruptions.

It’s important for residents and regional travelers to our area to know that Alexandria’s downtown will not suddenly grind to a halt because of this construction. They just have to follow the detour signs and perhaps park in a different spot than they’re used to.

This isn’t Armageddon. We can get through this, just as we did when Third Avenue East was under construction in 2004.

We should look at this as a type of challenge that we can stare down and conquer – kind of like a Minnesota blizzard in March. The road work should toughen us up, unite us, make us laugh at adversity and come out of it stronger than ever.

When the project kicks into high gear, we should keep our focus on the future – how beautiful the downtown area will look when the project is complete, how much safer it will be for pedestrians and bicyclists, and how much improved the underground sewer and water lines will be.

So let’s face this project with steely-eyed determination to help our downtown not just “get through” the construction but thrive throughout it. Years from now, let’s be able to look back at the summer of 2014 and say, in our Minnesota-style way, “That wasn’t so bad. It could’ve been worse, a lot worse.”