It's a record-setting year for roads
As you're driving on St. Louis County highways this summer, you will encounter lots of orange signs, barrels and road construction equipment. When you see our Public Works employees and contractors, please give 'em a brake. I'm saying that not just as a reminder to use extra caution when traveling through construction zones, but also to make you aware of how hard they are working this summer to give you good quality roads and bridges.
The 2016 road construction season is here, the biggest by far that we have ever managed in St. Louis County. As busy as it was following the 2012 floods and as busy as our record breaking year of $50 million in projects was in 2015, this year will be even busier, with an estimated $83 million worth of projects slated to be worked on before winter arrives.
As you may recall, St. Louis County embarked on an ambitious and much-needed plan last year to improve the county's vast network of 3,000 miles of roads and over 600 bridges. The improvements are funded through a combination of local tax levy, state and federal aid and transportation sales tax dollars, along with a $40 million infusion from general obligation capital improvement bonds, which will be paid back using revenue from the transportation sales tax.
Among our first accomplishments here in Duluth with transportation sales tax, last year we resurfaced all of Arlington Avenue and a 6-mile stretch of Martin Road.
This year, we have more than 170 projects in the works across the county, including 107 miles of pavement preservation, 24 bridge replacements, 280 miles of preventative pavement maintenance, 5 miles of complete reconstruction, 15 miles of gravel road improvements and more than 12 miles of culvert replacements. Additionally, we will complete numerous safety projects such as guardrails, high visibility pavement markings, adding traffic signals at two intersections and upgrading four railroad crossings. We'll also be adding more than 7 miles of bike trails and many miles of paved shoulders, making them bike- and pedestrian-friendly.
The biggest project here in Duluth will be the reconstruction of Fourth Street. We're partnering with the city of Duluth and over the next two years will rebuild the road, replace utilities and make numerous safety improvements. Construction is expected to begin in July.
Another project within the city is what I like to call the "super sidewalk." This asphalt extra-wide sidewalk will run along Rice Lake Road from Marshall School to Arrowhead Road. It will provide a safe route for people who use human power to get around. Farther out on Rice Lake Road, we'll add a traffic signal at the intersection with Airport Road.
North of Duluth, we'll be resurfacing 12 miles of County Highway 4, stretching from Island Lake to the Whiteface Reservoir. This will be a welcome improvement for those who use it to commute to work or to get to the cabin on the weekend.
Too numerous to mention are the pavement preservation projects in the ring of townships surrounding Duluth. You will notice a big difference after this construction season.
Other large projects in the county include the relocation of Highway 5 near Chisholm to accommodate continued mining operations at Hibbing Taconite. This two-year project will feature the first roundabout in the St. Louis County highway system.
So it's going to be a busy year for us and a year with potentially some detours and delays for you. We recognize the inconvenience this may cause and thank you in advance for your patience. If you are traveling in or near a work zone please slow down, put down your phone and pay attention. Watch for flaggers and for vehicles that brake suddenly. Statistically, the victims of work zone crashes typically aren't the workers. It's the motorists and their passengers.
Working together, we can make this a safe construction season and get everyone to where they need to be.
Jim Foldesi is the St. Louis County Public Works director.