Darryl Powell controls traffic as crews pave Highway 44 just east of Mabel on Wednesday, Oct. 16.  S. LEE EPPS/NEWS RECORD
Darryl Powell controls traffic as crews pave Highway 44 just east of Mabel on Wednesday, Oct. 16. S. LEE EPPS/NEWS RECORD
Mabel-area residents and those who do business on Highway 44 from the Highway 52 intersection through Spring Grove have dealt with a large amount of road construction this summer and fall. But those ready to have detours, grooved pavement and road construction end will not have to wait too much longer.

Residents have had to bear with a detour on Highway 44 as crews replaced culverts earlier in the summer. Now travelers are working with flaggers and pilot cars as the crews' mill and overlay the road. The rewards, when finished, include upgraded utilities and a smoother, safer road.

"We're kind of looking to the middle of November for completion," said project manager Jeff Bunch, Project Manager with MnDOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation). Bunch said the crews hope to have the first lift completed by the middle of this week and then go back to Spring Grove and begin the second lift.

The project has, for the most part, gone according to plan, according to Bunch. "Essentially we haven't encountered too many issues," he said. "The biggest thing we probably had was the weather."

Bunch is referring to the heavy rains that slowed the project down in June and now the approaching winter weather. "It gets to this time of year you don't want to be doing too much paving...unfortunately we've got a big program (this) year and a lot of paving projects. Fall is tough to pave, sometimes you can't start right away in the morning if you have fog - and if the pavement is wet, you can't (pave). This time of year you may not be able to start until 10 in the morning."

Bunch acknowledged this has been a busy year for road construction in southeast Minnesota in general. That is due to funding that has been received through the Better Roads program that has added highway projects that were scheduled a few years into the future but have been moved forward.

"We've kind of pushed projects together that probably would have been more spread out over the years - but now we have a lot of paving going on," Bunch explained. "It's been a tall order for the contractors in the area to keep up, and a tall order for us to get those projects out."

The total cost of the Highway 44 project was estimated at $9.8 million and Bunch said they are not too far off. "There really has not been anything that has shot up yet."