Roadblock for businesses
WORTHINGTON -- It will be another two and a half months before businesses along the south and east side of Worthington will see relief from the "road closed" barricades, orange cones and construction vehicles involved in the Minnesota 60 four-lane expansion project.
The completion of the first and second phases of the project is still on target for mid-November, allowing for traffic to follow the new four-lane highway all the way up from Iowa to Oxford Street in Worthington.
Reopening of the highway can't come soon enough for business owners like Larry Potter, who has seen a nearly 30 percent drop in business at the Blue Line Travel Center on Minnesota 60, just north of Interstate 90. Potter said this summer's closure of the I-90 westbound exit ramp has been especially detrimental.
"Our westbound on-off ramp is the most important intersection to us," Potter said. "When that's closed, all of the people going west can't get to us."
Worthington Travel Plaza Manager Gail Poppen said the ramp closure was especially tough on business through the Sturgis, S.D., motorcycle rally. Vehicles en route to the rally that would normally stop at the plaza avoided it this year because of the ramp closure.
"We knew going into it that this year was going to be a challenge," Poppen said. "We're optimistic that once (the work is) all done, we're going to see a benefit from it. It's tough, but there's nothing you can do about it."
Potter said this is the third consecutive summer season that traffic restrictions have impacted his business, and he's in for one more year next year, during the third and final phase of the Minnesota 60 project.
"The locals are supporting us, and that's the good part," Potter said. "The money we make in the summer carries us through the bad months in the winter. Come April, May, that's when times will be tough."
Nearly all of the Blue Line's 60 employees have had their hours cut because of the decline in customers, and waitresses at the café aren't collecting as much in tips as they used to prior to the construction project.
On the flip side, Potter said his utility bill has dropped some because the doors to his business aren't opening as often as they used to, and he's welcomed the construction vehicles that do their refueling at the Blue Line's fuel pumps.
"There's really nothing the highway department can do about it," Potter said of the construction. "It's just tough on people."
On the south side of town, Worthington Ag Parts fields calls daily from customers trying to get to the tractor salvage from detour routes set up several miles away.
"We've had customers that just went back home because they didn't have a cell (phone) to call us," said Mike Winter, company president. "We've lost all visibility to people driving by and stopping in to buy parts."
The local business has resorted to preparing directions to hand out to customers who do find the front door, just to help them find their way back out of the construction zone.
"I lived in Worthington for 25 years and I had trouble finding my way to the yard one day from Minneapolis," said Winter, adding he ended up by Lake Ocheda.
"It's impacted our business," he added.
If people have a hard time finding their way to Worthington Ag Parts, it seems to be an even greater challenge to get to businesses south of the railroad bridge. Barricades block traffic from the north, and road construction prohibits travel from the south.
To get to ProBuild, manager Richard Froderman said customers have to take about a five- or six-mile-long detour through the city. The only way to reach the lumber yard from downtown Worthington is to take 12th Street across the railroad tracks to Sherwood Street and East Avenue before reaching the gravel frontage road otherwise known as Kragness Avenue.
"It's slowed the walk-in traffic, but it hasn't affected our contractor base at all," said Froderman, adding the business has increased its deliveries to make it easier for customers.
"They're going to be putting the new road in the middle of next month, and that's going to help a lot," he said.
Poncho White, business liaison for the Minnesota Department of Transportation on the Minnesota 60 project, said temporary paving will be done below the railroad bridge to allow traffic to flow past ProBuild and other businesses along the southeast beltline by mid-November.
Meanwhile, the westbound on-off ramps from I-90, south of Blue Line Travel Center, will reopen on Thursday, and the two-lane traffic on Minnesota 60 that stretches from near King's Wok to just north of the Blue Line will shift from the westbound lanes to the eastbound lanes.
"One of the main reasons we're switching the traffic over is it will allow for R&G (Construction, of Marshall) to do the excavation and installation of the 48-inch culvert from the railroad bridge to the Blue Line," said White, adding that crews will begin rebuilding the northbound lane as they go.
The eastbound lanes will remain open to two-way traffic through the winter.
As for the construction work south of Worthington, White said there is some shoulder work remaining along the new four-lane highway, as well as signage and lighting that is yet to be completed. Permanent seeding will also be done yet this fall.
The highway will open soon to local traffic only, meaning those who live on or immediately adjacent to it will be able to get to Worthington.
"There's still crews working out there, so we want to keep the majority of the traffic off of there," White said.
Work on the third and final phase of the project will begin next year, resulting in a detour that will detour traffic to Nobles County State Aid Highway 35 and then north on the existing detour route into Worthington.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.