By Craig Wilkins
Moments after detonation, a smoke plume rises through the blast cap during work to excavate a huge rock outcropping in the Miller Hill Corridor in Duluth. Photo by John Bray
Carefully controlled blasts occur regularly now in Duluth’s Miller Hill area, their noise and impact muffled by a huge, coiled nest of heavy truck tires.
The blasting, excavating and other work signal that reconstruction is underway along the busy and oft-congested Miller Trunk Highway, which includes parts of Hwy 53 and Hwy 194.
The $24.5 million project, seven years in the making, started this summer.
The three-year project focuses on a one-mile section of Hwy 53 between Haines Road, the city’s border with Hermantown, and Trinity Road.
The project partners, District 1, St. Louis County and the city of Duluth, share the planning and costs of the project. FHWA monies fund $18 million; project partners share the remaining costs.
As an excavated boulder thudded to the ground a short distance away, project staff reviewed plans for the reconstruction of Hwy 53 near Miller Hill in Duluth. From left are Roberta Dwyer, project manager; Jim Sorenson, project supervisor, and Krysten Saatela, a graduate engineer working in the land management section. Photo by John Bray
Roberta Dwyer, District 1 land management engineer, said the project will relieve congestion, ensure more orderly growth and improve connectivity among the web of city streets and county roads that cross or run parallel with the Miller Highway corridor.
Dwyer also serves as the project’s manager.
A boom in commercial and residential development drives the need for the project.
The growth is fueled by a strong regional economy and easy highway access from Interstate 35, the Iron Range and other regional communities. Shoppers also flock to the area from Michigan, Wisconsin and Canadian provinces.
The crest of the boom rolls down from Miller Hill, site of its namesake mall and other major stores, along the corridor.
New housing and specialty stores and services continue to proliferate. The highway brims with traffic.
The traffic flow, however, often eddies and pools from frequent highway tie-ups as it collects traffic from city streets, county highways, boulevards and access roads.
Trucks carrying heavy or over-sized loads from the Port of Duluth-Superior and headed west on Hwy 53 frequently rumble through, adding their cumbersome, slow-moving loads to the traffic mix.
Construction workers pour footings for a new bridge as they rebuild Hwy 53 in the Miller Hill corridor in Duluth. Environmental concerns are paramount in the area where nearly a score of streams, some of them alive with trout, roll down toward Lake Superior. Photo by John Bray
In addition to vehicular traffic, Dwyer said the comprehensive project will address the needs of area residents, shoppers and others who walk, use wheelchairs or use public transit.
“The corridor has a growing number of elders, people with disabilities and small children,” she said.
“We have often seen, for example, transit users waiting in the road for buses and elders having difficulty walking to the grocery store, especially in winter, due to a lack of sidewalks.”
The project addresses those issues, she said, by adding sidewalks, accessible transit stops and other facilities to promote mobility and safety.
Dwyer said the project will be completed by 2011.
“Our vision for the project calls for better traffic circulation and improved safety to meet the spiraling transportation needs of employers, retail stores, shippers, commuters, tourists and residents,” Dwyer said.