For some residents, the Winona bridge project may be the largest construction project of their lifetime, and a project of that size does not come without some disruptions. How street closures and traffic restrictions might affect businesses in the immediate area were prominent among concerns voiced by residents at recent meetings with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT).
The river crossing is expected to remain open at all times during construction; however, on multiple occasions during construction of the new bridge and rehabilitation of the old bridge, Mn/DOT plans to close Second and Third streets for weeks at a time. Mn/DOT Project Manager Terry Ward said that his agency does not intend to close both streets at the same time. Traffic at the bridge landing at Fourth and Winona streets is also expected to be restricted to right turns only for what could be more than a year, Mn/DOT officials said. Additionally, traffic entering Latsch Island from either direction may be limited to left turns only during a portion of construction. Ward said that it may be necessary to install a stoplight or other traffic signal on the highway at Latsch Island.
"Protect the strength and viability of businesses within a several-block radius of the construction zone," urged Winona Chamber of Commerce President Della Schmidt at a meeting with Mn/DOT officials last week. Minnesota Marine Art Museum Executive Director Andy Maus and several citizens echoed Schmidt's imperative and Winona County Commissioner Steve Jacob asked Mn/DOT to ensure that, to Wisconsin dwellers, Winona still appears "open for business" during construction.
Area business owners interviewed about the construction closures did not express serious concerns over Wisconsin traffic being discouraged by construction work, but had mixed opinions about the closures of Second and Third streets.
Winona Bread and Bagel owner Polly Howe said that Second Street is a major route for her customers and said that the closures were a concern for her business.
Dennis Daniels, owner of Daniels ACE Hardware, commented, "Whenever you make it slightly inconvenient for people that's not going to help." However, he felt that Riverview Drive, which is expected to remain open during construction, is more important to his customers.
As long as Huff Street does not close, Nikki Stanton of Rochester Wholesale Fruit said she does not expect her business to suffer. "People who want to get to a destination will find a way," she said.
"It's never good when you're in a construction area," but communication from Mn/DOT has been very good, said Timbers Restaurant owner Shawn Beier. "It's probably more frustrating that we're losing a hotel, but that's out of our hands." Beier said he hopes customers will support the restaurant throughout construction and that he looks forward to the beautiful area that will surround the bridge once the project is finished.
Daniels, Howe, and many of the citizens present at last week's Mn/DOT meeting felt that clear signage and advance warning of closures could go a long way to minimize confusion and loss of business.
At the meeting, Maus asked for six months' notice of upcoming closures, which Ward said was possible. Rob Ossell urged Mn/DOT to remember shift workers traveling to and from Wisconsin when scheduling street closures and work on the bridge.
When asked by citizens about the dike bicycle path, Ward said it would be extremely difficult to keep it open during construction. The path between Riverview Drive and the bridge is planned for use as a construction staging area. Mn/DOT also plans to use its right of way on the upriver side of Latsch Island as a staging area and is in discussions with city staff about using areas on the downriver half of Latsch Island as a staging area.
Other citizens at the meeting expressed concerns over the effect that runoff from the project may have on river water quality.
Last week's meeting was the first step in what Mn/DOT officials said is a first-of-its-kind effort to minimize construction issues. The agency has hired public relations consultants to conduct a campaign to identify and mitigate the negative effects construction may have on Winonans, from noise to street closures. On April 21, Mn/DOT and consultants are expected to seek input from the City Council to prioritize and clarify the concerns and goals listed by citizens. In May and June, Mn/DOT said it will host a series of public meetings to talk about concerns and goals in greater detail. As the project continues, Mn/DOT hopes to get local volunteers and/or outside experts to study the concerns and make recommendations to mitigate them. Ultimately, Ward said that Mn/DOT will discuss with city officials how and whether to implement those recommendations, including whether the city or Mn/DOT would pay for any associated costs. City Manager Judy Bodway said she expects to seek directives from the full City Council on how to proceed with recommendations.
Mn/DOT hopes to begin construction of river piers for the new bridge this summer. As soon as the new bridge is completed, it will be opened for traffic and the old bridge will be closed for rehabilitation.