Approvals required in Bemidji, St. Paul and Washington, D.C. before anything can proceed, engineer says.

Rich Clauson was monitoring the traffic situation on Crookston's south end Tuesday afternoon, where a big portion of Old Highway 75 is under construction and closed, when he noticed the same vehicle coming by several times in multiple directions over a span of a couple minutes.

Eventually, the exasperated driver deducted that Clauson might be someone who knew a thing or two about the situation, so she pulled up to him and rolled down her window.

"She said, 'How do I get to Minot?'" the engineer with Widseth Smith Nolting & Associates told the Times. As Clauson explained to the woman how to get out of town and on the way to her destination, the electronic voice on the GPS navigation system on her smart phone continued to "recalculate" and advise her to make a u-turn.

The frustrated female motorist is not alone. Several people over the past few days have wondered openly why in the world a major road construction project such as the one currently underway on Old Highway 75 on Crookston's south end would be scheduled to occur during the October sugarbeet harvest of all things.

Aware of the frustrations, Clauson said the timing of the project, in addition to other street projects currently underway in Crookston – on Woodland Ave., Minnesota St. and Third Ave. SW – was not a local decision.

"There is no local control over the construction timeline," he told the Times.
These aren't your typical local street improvement projects that take place every summer in Crookston. These are federally funded projects. Each year federal money for street projects is allocated to Crookston, East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and Bemidji, all of which are located in District 2 of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Years ago, the annual allocation was typically divided up equally among the four cities, but Clauson said it was eventually determined that divvying up the money didn't leave enough for any of the four cities to do much in the way of substantial street work. So, eventually, it was decided that the entire allocation would go to one of the four cities each year on a rotating basis.

This year, the federal funding totals around $740,000 and all of it is being utilized on projects in Crookston. Knife River Materials is the general contractor, with sub-contractor Paras Contracting doing the concrete work.

Slow process
With every little change in the project specifications needing approval at the MnDOT District 2 office in Bemidji, then at MnDOT's state headquarters in St. Paul and, finally, in Washington, D.C., Clauson said it became clear a while ago that the initial local goal of starting the federal projects around a month sooner than they got underway was not going to be met.

"All these approvals for every little thing, it all adds up to things taking a long time and I know it's frustrating for some people," he said. "Knowing our turn was coming up, we tried to put a plan together that maximized our dollars, and we're getting some important work done this fall."

Clauson noted that the condition of Old Highway 75 has in recent years triggered some of the most vocal complaints from motorists. Now it's getting fixed and is going to be real nice when it's finished, he said, and yet many aren't happy that the work is taking place during the sugarbeet harvest, when big trucks are constantly coming and going from Crookston's American Crystal Sugar factory.

"We're not just spending money to spend money; these are important projects," Clauson said.

He added that the traffic headaches likely would have been significantly more painful had the federal projects taken place during the summer, when Interstate Improvement was doing the state-funded improvements of the east and westbound lanes of U.S. Highway 2 from Groveland Ave. through East Robert Street.

"That would have been pretty nasty," Clauson said.

He noted that paving is expected to begin next week on the Highway 75 project.