Highway 52 improvements through Chatfield to begin soon

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Fear not: There’ll still be someplace to put the car.

“The official start date is May 3, and the end date is September 13, and while there’s no parking in the construction zone during the project, there will be parking downtown on Main Street after the project,” said Mike Dougherty, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) District 6 Director of Public Engagement and Communications. He reassured Chatfield residents that it will still be possible to park downtown to shop and have their coffee and pancakes after MnDOT completes its upgrades and improvements to Highway 52, which runs concurrent with Chatfield’s Main Street.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is scheduled to provide improvements for Highway 52 from Marion to Chatfield from May to September 2019.

Work on rural Highway 52 includes a blacktop mill and overlay, turn-lane extensions, intersection safety improvements, and culvert repairs and replacements. Three box culverts (bridges) will be replaced along the rural portion of the project.

Work on the section of Highway 52 within the city of Chatfield will include a blacktop mill and overlay, curb ramp and sidewalk Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements, storm sewer upgrades and replacement of the traffic signal at Highway 52 and 74.

Traffic will be detoured to replace the three box culverts located between Olmsted County Road 16 and Olmsted County Road 7 North. Traffic will be detoured from Highway 52 to Olmsted County Road 7 to I-90 and is estimated to last up to eight weeks, beginning in early June 2019.

Additionally, there will be a short-term detour using Olmsted County Road 10 for replacing a centerline pipe north of Olmsted County Road 136. The remaining work will be done under traffic.

Work in the city limits of Chatfield does not require a traffic detour.

The project schedule was also highlighted, with bids let in March 2019, construction set to start in late May, and the end of the project to arrive before the snow flies.

Chatfield’s Committee of the Whole (COW), comprised of city administration, mayor and city councilors, as well as department heads whose departments will be impacted by the project, met at the MNDOT District 6 headquarters in Rochester in September 2017 to converse about what would be ahead for Chatfield’s main thoroughfare.

During that meeting, MnDOT representative Heather Lukes, now no longer a part of the Highway 52 project due to a change in positions at MnDOT, outlined for the COW members what some of the plans were at that point in time.

She told them, “This project is considered a preservation project – it’s meant to maintain or extend the useful life of the roadway, and any safety improvements will be included, as well as any improvements using the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) systems…we want to consider all modes of transportation.”

Lukes added new sidewalks would be placed, but the width would change – as will the width of available parking spaces – because of the plans to make way for left turning lanes.

The group perused the options for turning lanes and how it would affect parking and traffic, including the parking stalls ahead of and after the turning lanes possibly being shifted slightly to accommodate more cars so to alleviate potential parking problems caused by the elimination of existing parking spaces.

MnDOT convened again with Chatfield representatives – and residents – during an open house held July 24, 2018, to help better acquaint citizens with the tenets of the upcoming project.

Lukes and Dougherty provided the project overview, answering questions posed by attendees. Lukes supplied answers to them, including that the highway would be narrowed down by six feet for safety purposes – namely people attempting to pass on the right – and the sidewalks being widened.

She said, “The current width of the road is far wider than many roads, so parallel parking as is now will still be accommodated on the street in front of the businesses.”

Most recently, Dougherty provided the most accurate and current facts on the project, beginning with how much of Chatfield’s business sector will be affected by the work being done on the highway.

“We’ll always have two-way traffic on the road. The contractor will do one side and then the other. Traffic will be on the side opposite of the construction work on the two blocks downtown. The contractor needs to maintain access to businesses,” he said. “There will be a barrier between traffic and pedestrians on the side that is under construction, with access to the businesses. There will be parking around the corners of the two blocks downtown, but not directly in the construction zone.”

He addressed changes in traffic during the project being executed. “The intersection of County Road 16 near Marion will be realigned. For about a week, the detour from Chatfield to Rochester is Olmsted County Road 10 to I-90. After the culvert work just north of Chatfield is completed, the new detour will be Highway 52 north to Olmsted County Road 7 to I-90. This will be 50 working days, so this detour is much longer for the culvert replacement work.”

Dougherty foresaw no water or electrical disruptions happening as part of the project, and he stated access will be available for those who need to reach Chatfield businesses or travel the sidewalks.

“The main challenge we face in all projects is to ensure access during the project,” he said. “Fully shutting down a highway can make a project go faster, but we balance that with the effort to maintain traffic and convenience as much as we can, while still keeping the project safe for motorists and the workers. Plans are to be done downtown before July 19 to make way for Western Days.”

Ultimately, Chatfield gets to keep its downtown parking, have new stoplights and streetlights and a smooth new road on which to get through town and to Rochester.

Dougherty said, “The road will remain the same width, but there will be four new or extended turn lanes along Highway 52. There will be new lights put in downtown, and a new stoplight signal that meets current accessibility requirements. Some areas will get new sidewalks. Pedestrian ramps will also be updated, which improves accessibility for all. People will enjoy a smoother ride on the road, safer features, better drainage and improvements for pedestrians.”

For more information about the project or to sign up for email updates, log onto MnDOT’s project website at www.dot.state.mn.us/d6/projects/hwy52-marion-chatfield/index.html or join the MnDOT SE Minnesota Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/MnDOTsoutheast/.

“MnDOT will provide information about how to contact the contractor, who will have an access manager. MnDOT can also be contacted,” Dougherty concluded.