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Highway 371: All lanes open from Nisswa to Jenkins

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Highway 371 through Nisswa was the final part of the expansion project to open. Jim Stafford / Brainerd Dispatch and Echo Journal2 / 2

As crews removed the remaining orange and white traffic barricades and barrels Monday, Oct. 9, motorists sailed smoothly along four lanes of Highway 371 from Nisswa to Jenkins.

Come again?

Yes, you read that correctly. All lanes of the $50 million, 9.5-mile highway expansion project that's been talked about and debated for years have been open since noon Friday, Oct. 6.

"It's nice to be substantially done," Tony Hughes, construction project manager with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said Monday, Oct. 9.

That's likely the sentiment of motorists who traveled the route all summer - carefully following the changing patterns of barrels that designated what lane to be in - and current and former city council members along the route who have talked about and voted on the four-lane highway for years.

Now it's reality.

Hughes said the field work, or what motorists see, is substantially complete. Crews will continue to monitor the turf and grass to ensure it grows and erosion doesn't occur. A landscaping project will take place in the future.

"There will still be crews out there working, so people still need to drive safely," Hughes said.

The highway speed limit is 60 mph from Baxter to Nisswa, where it drops to 50 mph before the traffic light before increasing to 65 mph just north of downtown Nisswa through Pequot Lakes until the highway goes back to two lanes just south of the AmericInn in Jenkins.

The project is all about safety and traffic mobility.

"Reduced conflict intersections" are located at County Roads 168/107 at the south end of Pequot Lakes and at County Road 112 at the north end of the city. (Those who have made those turns know what they are.) A full interchange at County State Aid Highway 11 in Pequot Lakes has roundabouts to get motorists to Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point or onto the highway. The Paul Bunyan Trail was realigned in Pequot Lakes and Jenkins, and a trail bridge was built over the highway south of Pequot Lakes.

Total cost for the project, according to the MnDOT project website, is $49,858,419, of which $45 million is Corridors of Commerce funds. The 2013 Minnesota Legislature created the Corridors of Commerce program by authorizing the sale of up to $300 million in new bonds for the construction, reconstruction and improvement of trunk highway, according to MnDOT.

The area learned in 2015 that the Highway 371 project would receive the Corridors of Commerce funds, and trees started coming down along the route in 2016.

After two seasons of construction work, all lanes are open.

Mathiowetz Construction of Sleepy Eye is the prime contractor, and worked with MnDOT in a design-build fashion. That means designers worked on little pieces of the project at a time and the contractor started working on each piece when the design was final. This led to the project moving along faster.

"The project went well. It was a learning experience with the design-build," Hughes said. "For the most part, I think it was well received from the public. I've heard a lot of positive comments from the public."

All Roads Open celebration

All motorists and residents in surrounding communities are invited to an All Roads Open community celebration with dedication ceremony at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, at Pequot Lakes Supervalu.

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