— The big detour required by the Highway 14/Nicollet County Road 41 project has been pushed back by a week or two because of rainy weather, but the little detour — of County Road 41 (Rockford Road) — is in place and causing at least a few complaints.
“While it is a short detour leading between County 41 and the street leading into Northridge housing addition, it is very poorly done and not being used by most due to its poor and very rough condition,” wrote Keith Burg in a letter to The Free Press.
Rockford Road normally connects the Judson Bottom Road to Highway 14, but the connection was severed by the construction of a new interchange where the two roads meet and the expansion of about a mile of two-lane Highway 14 to four-lane expressway.
Rather than create a dead-end on the north side of Rockford, the Minnesota Department of Transportation created a temporary road connecting Rockford to Pleasant View Drive — which winds through the Northridge residential area before connecting with Lookout Drive and Highway 14.
A resident of Rockford Road, Burg said the bumpy patch of temporary road is unpleasant enough to use that drivers are skipping the detour and continuing on Judson Bottom Road to the intersection with Lookout Drive.
The Bottom Road — a narrow but scenic stretch of roadway that runs along the Minnesota River — is popular with walkers, bike-riders and motorcyclists and can’t safely handle the additional traffic, according to Burg.
“... Many feel it will only be a matter of time before someone will be hurt or killed in a bike-vehicle traffic accident,” he wrote.
Matt Rottermond, MnDOT’s project manager for the roughly $18 million Highway 14 project, said he’s heard some complaints about the bypass connecting Rockford to Pleasant View.
Gravel was placed on a farm field to create the temporary bypass and provide a back-up route for emergency vehicles to the Rockford Road-Judson Bottom area, Rottermond said. Paving it would have been too expensive considering the minimal levels of traffic that would benefit.
“It’s only there just a short period of time — June to October, really,” he said. “For the low amount of people using it, we couldn’t justify the cost of paving it.”
Constructing a paved road requires more than laying down some asphalt, Rottermond said. Because of the soft agricultural soils, the paved surface would have broken up very quickly unless a roadbed was constructed beneath it.
Traffic being funneled onto the Bottom Road is more than just local residents, according to Burg. People traveling to the North Mankato/Mankato hilltop from Lake Crystal, Cambria and rural New Ulm use the Bottom Road-to-Rockford-to-Highway 14 route as a shortcut. Now they’re using the Bottom Road all the way.
“The concern is that many people are using this stretch of the Judson Bottom Road for walking, dog-walking, biking, etc.,” Burg wrote. “With regular traffic levels it is dangerous because there are no shoulders on the Bottom Road, and many walkers and bikers insist on using the entire roadway for their purpose.”
Rottermond said there’s a good alternative for people from the west who are using the Bottom Road and Rockford Road to reach Highway 14. When crossing the Minnesota River at Judson, they should continue on County Road 23 for about two miles and then take County Road 25 east to Highway 14.
That option will become less attractive when Highway 14 is shut down between Lookout Drive and County Road 6 with about 9,000 vehicles detoured on to those roads daily.
The detour was originally expected to begin the last week in May, but contractor Mathiowetz Construction came up with a strategy to do more preliminary work with the highway remaining open to traffic. At that point, the detour was planned to start around June 23.
Rainy weather has pushed the start back further, Rottermond said. Highway 14 might now stay open until the end of the month, or even later if rains predicted for the next few days become a reality.
“It’s possible it could get pushed back after the Fourth (of July),” he said.
The delay also means a later conclusion to the Highway 14 detour, which is expected to last a maximum of 90 days.
“It would be probably all of July, August and September at this point,” Rottermond said.
The Highway 14 improvement is a two-year project, but two of the four new lanes are to be completed by the fall — allowing the highway to reopen to traffic.
The entire project is to be finished during the 2013 construction season with no detours required in the second year.