Fran Edstrom Headshot

by Frances Edstrom, columnist


It has taken me a while, but I think I finally figured it out.

MnDOT, that is!

Because of where I live, off of Homer Road, I must traverse the roundabout construction on highways 61/43 on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day, due to appointments and needs, i.e., groceries, etc.

Several weeks ago, before construction even began back in April, MnDOT put up orange construction drums along Homer Road, far from the future location of the highway roundabout. Why? I’ll get to that.

Then when construction began, if you lived in the Highway 43 area in Burns Valley, you could always get into town along Sugar Loaf Road and Lake Boulevard. If you lorded it over your friends who were not so close to Sugar Loaf Road, it soon became apparent that you were premature in feeling lucky. Sugar Loaf Road was blocked by construction at Lake Boulevard.

Wily drivers coming into the intersection from the direction of La Crosse began cutting through the Fleet Farm parking lot. Oh, but “It is unlawful for any person to avoid obedience to any traffic control device by driving upon or through any private property,” says the law. So policing began along that route, forcing drivers into the intersection.

Now we’re three months into the construction, and a water main break closed Mankato Avenue for a few days, and the backup on Highway 61 at times extended all the way to the lights at Huff Street.

For someone who is a big fan of the “zipper merge,” which most Winonans think is cheating and budging in line, this one-lane backup causes a lot of heartburn. When I drive up to the merge in the absolutely empty second lane (use both lanes during traffic back-ups, the sign says) I get the stink-eye from other drivers. Good thing I have a talisman, for just such evil-eye occasions, that I got from Gary Diomandes, who is Greek and knows a lot about evil-eye stuff.

As MnDOT most likely anticipated, impatient drivers such as myself finally are tired of trying to outsmart them. If I were rich, I’d buy a helicopter. I wonder if I could land one on the roof of Midtown Foods without crashing through into the meat department?

Why has MnDOT made life so miserable for us? Why is it so hard to get to the hardware store when all you need is picture hangers? Why is it so hard to get to the grocery store that you go through the pantry and wonder what you can make with the canned oysters that you bought by mistake last year? Why are you punished when all you want is to get your grandchildren, who are staying with you for a couple of weeks, to WSU in order to take a filmmaking class offered by GRSF? Or to the Aquatic Center? Or to the band shell? Or to the river? Or to the office? Or anywhere except Homer Road?

Why? I’ll tell you!

The more painful this construction project is to us Winonans, who thought that intersection was just fine, the better for MnDOT. As this construction drags on and on, producing more and more orange construction drums (I should have stock in that company!) around bigger and bigger piles of dirt and gravel and louder and louder earth movers, we motorists are all this while forgetting exactly what the roads were like pre-construction. The more we concentrate on the present chaotic situation, the more we will be relieved when it is finally over and there is a brand-new roundabout, complete with flowers in the center, and the orange cones are carted away to the next project.

Then, we will say to ourselves, and anyone within earshot, “Thank goodness that construction is over, and we have a real road to drive on once more.” We’ll be so happy to drive through a huge roundabout and three little ones just to get a cup of coffee, that we won’t even blink when city government and MnDOT take credit for our happiness.

They will have defused any protest of the idiocy of creating this chaos in the first place, because they have planned this psychological assault so carefully. In the meantime, however, I silently protest the idiocy on a daily basis, sometimes twice, three or four times daily. I sure am glad I’m retired and have so much time on my hands.