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Way to go: Construction season calls for creative trip planning in Grand Forks

Traffic moves through a construction zone on DeMers near Washington Street Monday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
Eastbound traffic moves slowly through a construction zone on DeMers Avenue near the intersection with Washington Street Monday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

Construction season is in full swing, and the quick 5-mile jaunt to the store over the lunch hour isn't so quick anymore.

With construction projects on major Grand Forks roads planned through the summer drivers can expect longer trips or plan creative routes to their destinations.

"I always take the back roads to avoid it, but it's summertime in North Dakota," Bethany Thompson of Drayton, N.D., said. "People want good roads. You can't have it both ways. I put up with it and go around construction because I want nice roads."

Along DeMers Avenue, crews are at work on a $5.2 million roadway repair project spanning from Interstate 29 to just east of Washington Street. Work will be focused on the eastern half of DeMers for the next month as concrete repair shifts from inner to outer lanes. After that, concrete grinding begins at the west end of the project.

DeMers should be reopened to traffic as soon as early August, with work continuing on pedestrian ramps and traffic signals.

Orange barrels are likely to be a fixture on Kennedy Bridge for even longer, with the $20 million project unfolding through 2019. Repairs and improvements—from paint to a pedestrian walkway—have reduced traffic to one lane in each direction.

Construction also continues in two places along South Columbia Road. The more prominent portion is a roughly $615,000 project, paid for by the city, between 14th and 17th avenues south, where traffic is down to one lane in each direction with turn restrictions through the area. Construction on the intersection at 17th Avenue South is expected to begin in earnest in the next several weeks, closing the cross-street and temporarily halting turns off Columbia, but the area is expected to fully reopen to traffic by early August.

South Columbia Road between 40th and 47th avenues south is fully closed until mid-September in a $6.6 million project, with the intersection at 47th Avenue South set to be closed for 30 days between July 8 and Aug. 19. The city is paying for roughly $4 million of the project.

South Washington Street between Hammerling Avenue and 13th Avenue south will be reduced to one lane this week as construction crews will be working on the curb on the east side of the road. Weather permitting, the work is set to be complete by Friday.

Into the cone zone

The Herald sent four reporters on an experiment Monday to see just how long it takes to get across town. All were to leave downtown at exactly noon and take different routes to stores at 32nd Avenue South and 34th Street. It wasn't a race, but they each were asked to time the trip.

The routes:

• Hopping on DeMers Avenue and going all the way to 42nd Street and then onto 32nd Avenue South

• Taking Fifth Street to Belmont Road and then 32nd Avenue South.

• Taking Fifth Street to Gateway Drive, then Interstate 29 to 32nd Avenue.

• Taking DeMers to Washington Street to 32nd Avenue.

The DeMers-42nd route took the longest amount of time. Normally a pretty straight shot, it came in at a whopping 18 minutes and 52 seconds.

The traffic backed up on DeMers immediately at the start of the construction zone even before hitting the lights on Washington Street. The $80 minimum fine persuaded the driver to stick to the 25 mph limit the entire stretch even though a large gap in front of her (and pileup behind her) indicated not everyone else was so inclined.

She had to slow for an ambulance entering off Columbia Road and again on 42nd to dodge a footlong piece of a sign post that must have fallen off a truck.

The long way around proved to be the fastest. Taking North Fifth Street to Gateway Drive, heading west the interstate and then south the 32nd Avenue took 11 minutes and 11 seconds.

The Herald hit nearly every traffic light on Gateway perfectly, but the interstate proved the fastest method to get around town.

Another route around construction, Fifth Street to Belmont Road and south to 32nd Avenue, was the second-speediest at 15 minutes and 21 seconds.

The trip along DeMers to Washington to 32nd Avenue was 17 minutes, 50 seconds, with delays at the intersection of DeMers and Washington. At what is usually the city's busiest intersection traffic backed up as lanes merged east of the traffic signals.

Adjusting trips

For the most part, the Herald's rudimentary survey found that drivers are coping well with the delays. South-end shoppers Monday said they were understanding of the necessary evil.

Jodee Hass said she works in the area, so she didn't experience any construction on the way. However, she did say "to get to and from the clinic area on Columbia is a pain."

She has adjusted this summer by leaving 10 minutes early to get her son to baseball on time at Apollo Park.

Even with the head start, she said "it's not as bad as it was last year. Goodness, last year was terrible. Honestly, DeMers is not that bad."

It's easy to find alternate routes, said Jordan Kuchera. He and his 4-year-old daughter, Qwynn, had no trouble getting from their home on 10th Avenue North to the Starbucks on Washington. Kuchera said they then backtracked to Cherry Street to get to 32nd.

"It took all but five minutes to get here," Kuchera said. "I'd rather take Belmont or Cherry if I can and stay away from Washington. It's a lot of lights, traffic and congestion there."

No one appeared to be all too crabby Monday. Kuchera had his coffee and Qwynn was happy with her new Hatchable Egg toy.