‘169’ project affects school

BLUE EARTH – Highway 169 construction is impacting the new school year in Blue Earth.

The Blue Earth Area high school campus will be closed for lunch because of the construction, Principal Rich Schneider announced this week. He cited student safety as the primary reason.

The intersection of 169 and County Road 44 is closed and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Crossings for schoolchildren will be set up at Fifth or Sixth streets, but the Seventh Street roundabout on Highway 169 will not be complete for a while, according to Susan Museus, construction project supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The current crossing is set up on Fifth Street. It will be moved to Sixth Street as construction demands.

“There will be a designated walkway for people to walk separately from vehicles,” Museus said.

Additionally, the intersection of Fifth and East streets now has signage to make it a three-way stop. The change was requested by Dan Brod, transportation director for Blue Earth Area Schools, Museus said.

“People will have to pay attention,” she said. “[The new signs are] the only way to get good flow for the school buses.”

On another topic, Museus shot down rumors that MnDOT had eliminated one of the roundabouts.

“All three roundabouts are still in,” she said.

Other rumors about the Seventh Street roundabout were not easy for her to answer.

“I can’t give you a specific open date” on the roundabout, Museus said. “I can comfortably state early to mid-September.”

The Highway 169 project began June 10 but later that month crews found petroleum-contaminated soil, which was unanticipated, Museus said.

“Blue Earth was one of those towns with a gas station at just about every corner,” she said.

When the stations shut down, the underground tanks were just left there. Some of the contents leached into the surrounding soil. When the contamination was found, work on the road was shut down while MnDOT dealt with how to remove the soil.

“It did put quite a delay on Stage 1 with Seventh Street; just shy of three weeks,” Museus said.

With that problem resolved, work resumed.

“We’re putting down bituminous now, but have a substantial amount of work to do,” she said.

Future work includes laying concrete, landscaping, laying more bituminous and reassigning for the next stage of the detour. After the roundabout is done, detours will change so crews can work on the southern stretch of 169.

“Once Seventh opens, Stage 3 starts, which is reconstruction to the south of Seventh Street,” Museus said.

That stretch will involve lots of city utilities.

Construction also will continue on the north stretch of 169. It too has a lot of underground utilities, Museus said.

The bridge over the Blue Earth River will be resurfaced and the depth realigned.

“It’s going from a four-lane down to a two-lane,” she said.

A trail will be put in on the east side of the bridge and a sidewalk on the west side.

Late November is when Museus hopes to see the project complete, depending on the weather.

For updates on the project, MnDOT hosts informational meetings at 11 a.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays at the Public Safety Building in Blue Earth.