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Columbia Road businesses roll with another year of summer construction

With nearly finished meals in front of them, Clif Nelson and his family kicked back at Perkins Restaurant and Bakery. Through the window, hulking yellow machines trundled down what was once Columbia Road, with heavy construction bordering two sid...

Becca LaVoi (left) and Clif Nelson talk about the construction on Columbia Road at Perkins in Grand Forks on Thursday. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)
Becca LaVoi (left) and Clif Nelson talk about the construction on Columbia Road at Perkins in Grand Forks on Thursday. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)

With nearly finished meals in front of them, Clif Nelson and his family kicked back at Perkins Restaurant and Bakery. Through the window, hulking yellow machines trundled down what was once Columbia Road, with heavy construction bordering two sides of the restaurant.

Nelson, a Mandan, N.D., resident visiting town with his wife, said he'd expect that construction would make guests hesitate before heading to the restaurant.

"It probably does, but it isn't that bad," he said.

Nelson and his family were among more than a dozen guests at Perkins on Thursday afternoon, many of them the kind of drivers willing to take on the orange barrels and extended drive times that have come to characterize Columbia Road this summer. The city is in the midst of a total $6.4 million project to expand and rebuild the road between 14th and 11th avenues south, with an eye on reopening the road fully-with three full lanes in each direction-by late October.

Meantime, it's making a difference for some businesses in the highly developed area, which is situated across from Altru Hospital and near the shopping complex that includes the Hugo's at 1315 S. Columbia Road.

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Dave Mackowick, the Hugo's store manager, said there's been a "noticeable" impact on customer traffic. He suggested the problem is more psychological than logistical, though, explaining that it's much more likely customers are avoiding the area altogether than simply getting stuck in traffic.

"I mean, I haven't had any problems getting here, that's for sure," he said.

But Mackowick's concerns aren't shared by Amber Sundine, co-owner of Rhapsody Salon and Day spa, which operates in the strip mall just 100 yards away.

"For us, we are appointment-based," Sundine said, noting she didn't think the change made much of an impact on customer flow.

Michelle Adolphsen, a spokeswoman for Altru, said ambulance services have changed to adapt to the construction. There is an ambulance stationed at Fire Station No. 3, 3701 S. Columbia Road-south of 32nd Avenue South-from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Grand Forks Fire Chief Peter O'Neill pointed out that those times make the ambulance more readily available during peak traffic hours.

The project kicked off in May. Mike Yavarow, an engineer with the city of Grand Forks, said construction since has rebuilt an expanded set of southbound lanes, which is where traffic now runs. Construction, led by Strata Corp., is continuing on northbound lanes, which Yavarow said is running about a month behind. It'll be late September, instead of late August, when crews shift traffic to one lane on each side of the median and begin work on the median itself.

The $6.4 million price tag includes $4.5 million for construction and the remainder on engineering, Yavarow said. The city is expected to pay for about $1.75 million of the project, with the rest of the project covered by federal funding.

Yavarow said the manner in which the project has unfolded still suggests reopening all lanes to traffic in late October, though, with final landscaping work to follow.

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"I would say things are going relatively good," Yavarow said. "Things can always go better, and things can go worse, but it's going good. I'm sure somebody's complained to somebody, but the (city information) center hasn't gotten any complaints."

But Mackowick is ready for construction to be over. Asked if he's looking forward to a Columbia Road without traffic cones, he answered without hesitation:

"Definitely," he said.

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