It has been a long and difficult summer for many due to the coronavirus.
But at least one thing has gone right for businesses along Litchield’s main street — U.S. Highway 12 has been ahead of schedule almost from its beginning in May.
And it’s likely that the project that included an infrastructure overhaul on North Sibley Avenue from Fourth Street to Depot Street, and on Depot from Sibley to Holcombe Avenue could be done within days.
“We’ve been very fortunate with the weather, first and foremost,” Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said late last week. “We announced earlier in the season that we were going to be completed … six weeks earlier than the original completion date. It looks like it’s going to be completed even earlier.”
The original completion was slated for October, but that quickly changed to Sept. 19, Lighthizer said. Along with a benevolent construction weather cycle, the project also might have benefitted from the unforeseen effects of the pandemic, which kept many people home and off the roads, especially early in the summer.
Credit also goes to Landwehr Construction, Lighthizer said, for a well-managed project.
“Landwehr has been really efficient in terms of scheduling and making sure they were taking advantage of when we had good weather,” she said. “There hasn’t been a delay, really. They’ve done a great job.”
At the same time, Lighthizer acknowledged that even an ahead-of-schedule construction project strained many small business operations.
“In kind of an odd year, we still know that (construction) has been a disruption for people,” Lighthizer said. “We thank them for their patience.”
The patience of businesses along the construction route has most certainly been tried, according to The Chamber Excecutive Director Judy Hulterstrum. As the project start date approached, business owners and managers along the route had to change their operations, at the least to create an alternate entrance to their front doors, which would be shut down during parts of construction, and publicize public parking other than on main street. When the coronavirus hit, it seemed like piling on for many.
Yet, most businesses have tried to make the best of a bad situation.
“Parking was the main concern for a few businesses, and then the virus hit,’ Hulterstrum said. “Restaurants and businesses made sure access to their services were provided by curbside deliveries and so on. Businesses really stepped up and made sure the customers had access.”
Last week’s construction included completion of lighting installation, with commencement of road striping and signage installation, which is expected to be completed by Friday, weather permitting.
One of the biggest pieces yet to be completed is electrical work, including signal lights and railroad crossing arms, which are scheduled for completion by Sept. 8.
Construction spectators who venture downtown might take a look and see a ready-to-use street but Lighthizer cautioned against that perception.
“Infrastructure-wise, it looks really done,” Lighthizer said. “But there’s still those details that have to be done to get the road safe and ready for the traveling public.”
Still, even MnDOT’s spokesperson sounds optimistic of an earlier completion date.
“We’re hesitant to say it’s going to be ‘this date,’” she said. “We’re going to open it as soon as we possibly can.”
Whenever that date is, Hulterstrum said, it will be welcomed by downtown businesses — and their patrons.
“This has been a difficult time having two situations happen at the same time, but I feel businesses have done a great job to continue serving the public in unique ways,” Hulterstrum said. “Hats off to our business community.”
The Chamber is looking for ways “to bring fun back to our retail and business community this fall,” Hulterstrum said.
Meanwhile, MnDOT also plans a “road opening” celebration — albeit a pandemic, socially distanced affair, as is the norm these days.
“It’s going to be done virtually,” Lighthizer said of the celebration. “But we’re putting that together now, and it will go out for folks by that Sept. 19 or earlier date, to see the project from start to finish.”