You can’t get there from here

Orange barrel and blue language season is in full swing throughout Minnesota with some major freeway and highway reroutes testing one’s spatial orientation, IQ and patience. The same is also true for street maintenance. Any project, regardless of size, is subject to Robert Burns’ observation that the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. This area received nearly six months equivalent precipitation during June, most of that towards the end of the month which cause unforeseen damage and delays.

One particularly curious road project is the repaving of 106th St. between Humboldt Ave. and Xerxes Ave. in Bloomington near where I live. The original project plan indicated a “mill and overlay” scheduled between July 14 and August 23 with a new striping configuration that will not work for the traffic volume and rolling hills. Mill and overlay entails grinding the existing asphalt down to a thin layer and overlaying asphalt to the required depth.

One of the first tasks involved replacing natural gas line junctions which required digging deep holes in the street, replacing the parts and in some cases lengths of pipe, filling the hole and repaving over it. Two days after the natural gas company completed their project, the water department came along and did the same thing, except they sometimes broke up the new paving. Curb and gutter replacement occurred over several weeks in seemingly random thirty foot long sections. Easily 75% of the curb and gutter got replaced, and in a few instances, freshly cured concrete became freshly pulverized construction debris replaced by freshly poured concrete. Utility access entrances (“manholes” is a deprecated term) required very large and deep holes and large patches of fresh asphalt. Storm sewer drain replacement also encountered delays. Areas of the road bed were seriously damaged around some of the storm drains. Traffic volume necessitated repaving over the work areas rather than merely filling the areas in with gravel.

Milling began and completed yesterday and the road is ground down to a thin layer of asphalt with deep zigzag grooves that affect steering especially in small cars. 106th Street is scheduled for closure Friday early morning until early afternoon to accommodate the overlay process, but the weather may not cooperate. Some of the weather models are suggesting 1″-3″ of precipitation starting tonight after midnight and ending Thursday after midnight along with heat index estimates of 95°-105° during the day Thursday. (Welcome to the first day of the Minnesota State Fair). Saturday and Sunday may also have heavy rain periods. The interesting part is I live on a cul-de-sac and my only way in or out is on 106th Street. I may need to park on the street one block to the west in order to get anywhere during the closure, or stay home until the street reopens. My hope is the overlay happens on schedule.

Once the overlay completes and the asphalt is ready for paint there will be some very upset drivers. The street is currently configured as four lanes undivided. The new striping will allow for 5′ wide bicycle lanes, one 11′ wide lane for vehicles in each direction, and a 12′ wide center shared turn lane lovingly referred to as a suicide lane. While this configuration is successful in other areas of the city, 106th Street handles many times the daily number of vehicles and large truck traffic of those other streets. The street has several rolling hills of between 4% and 8% grade, which are very steep to most bicyclists. Those hills allow the Bloomington police department to set up very effective speed traps. Semi traffic employs a lot of “jake braking” (downshifting to use the engine and transmission to enhance braking) to keep from exceeding the posted 30 mph speed limit when going down the hills and they usually have to downshift several times to crest the hills. As for bicyclists, not all of us are Category 1 bicycle racers logging 30,000+ training miles per year or have Tour de France experience. The dearth of traffic controls between Xerxes Ave. and I-35W make 106th St. a preferred shortcut for harried commuters anxious to get home which increases the likelihood of speeding. Another tentative project threatens to funnel even more traffic on to 106th St. rather than off it, and that connector project has a few hundred households petitioning to scrap the connector. Such is the price one pays for progress, just as long as it affects some other neighborhood, of course.

My concern is the bicycle lanes and the suicide lane become axillary traffic lanes during rush hour periods even without the tentative connector. Add in mobile phone calls, or the illegal in Minnesota texting while driving, and the accident rate will increase while the traffic speed will not decrease. I welcome bike lanes, but I also welcome common sense and determining if a project is practical before its undertaking. In all seriousness, the repaving is long overdue and repairing road bed damage from the June deluges is a bonus. Perhaps next year, the plan for 106th St. is for a quick overlay and re-striping back to four lanes. Very highly educated people with advanced degrees in traffic engineering spent time developing the project plan, so the street lane reorientation success is likely a foregone conclusion. If you believe that, I have some ocean front property in Iowa for sale.

This post was definitely a departure from my normal fare, and I thank you for your time and patience. When life seems like curiously planned road construction, remember to take a breath and know that this too shall pass. What may be a challenge today may be an improvement tomorrow. If you have a special someone, you will find the confusion and frustration are more manageable. Give that person a meaningful hug or two for being there for you and with you. It may help you see the orange barrels without using blue language.

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