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His way is the highway

Mile by mile, Jim Bednar has been watching over the forward progress of Highway 64 toward New Richmond for five years.

With the final stages of construction approaching completion, Bednar is anxious for the work to be done.

"When we started this project, it seemed like we'd never get done," he said. "That was five years ago, and now we're getting close. Now we're waiting for Minnesota to do something about the bridge."

Bednar, engineering project manager with Short Elliot Hendrickson, is a Rice Lake resident but he's been maintaining an apartment locally for occasional overnight stays.

Life on the road, because of roads, is second nature to Bednar. He's been doing roadwork in various capacities for 35 years.

"This is by far my biggest project," he said during a tour of the project Thursday. "The $20 million projects don't come along that often."

The final construction season along Highway 64 has followed "a pretty aggressive schedule," Bednar said. Perfect weather this spring and summer have allowed construction crews to speed ahead.

"It's been great for us, but I don't know about the farmers," he said. "I think we've missed one day so far, and that was sometime back in May."

Even though recent days have been hot, Bednar said that hasn't slowed progress at all.

Bednar said progress on the overall project is still ahead of schedule. Crews hope to open the section of road from 110th Street to New Richmond by Oct. 1. The entire project is slated to be done by November.

"We've got a lot of work to do yet," Bednar cautioned. "But I still think we're ahead of schedule."

Last week was a busy time in the Highway 65 construction zone.

The new Highway 65 and 64 intersection in New Richmond opened late Thursday.

Crews hoped to open the roadway so they could test it for a day. Then, if any changes needed to be made, that could occur before the weekend.

With the traffic shift, cars and other vehicles were diverted to a newly paved section of roadway along Hatfield park and lake. The old 64 and 65 intersection will eventually be eliminated, and a cul-de-sac will be installed to provide access to homes, Cox Motors and Valley Auto.

Work will soon begin on the old section of Highway 64 past Farm and Home, Bernards and other businesses. A detour along the frontage road will be set up, and the roadway will eventually be expanded to a four-lane section to the edge of the city. Customers for the businesses will be detoured on 140th Street while work is done on the eastern section.

Crews also expect to open the new County Road K and Highway 64 intersection soon, providing additional access to the St. Croix Health Center property.

Within the next month, traffic along current Highway 64 will be directed to the 110th Street overpass, where they will enter the new section of road that leads to Somerset.

Once the remaining four-mile section is done, sometime before Oct. 1, traffic will flow freely into New Richmond.

Vehicles are already using the new County Road K bridge that runs over Highway 64. That's the best current access to the St. Croix Health Center property.

The County K bridge, along with other bridges along the route, is decorated with architectural rock.

"It makes it look kind of nice," Bednar said. "They're starting to do more of it in different parts of the state."

Work on the pedestrian underpass, which will offer access to the Hatfield Park property, is nearly completed. Paved and marked bicycle paths will allow riders to travel easily from the New Richmond Regional Airport into town.

As he points to the nicely landscaped underpass, Bednar can see a light at the end of the tunnel. More than 80 percent of the project is complete, things are looking good both from a construction standpoint and budget wise.

"If I had to guess, I would guess we'll be under budget," he said. "But it's hard to tell right now."

When the project is finally complete, Bednar said officials are talking about conducting an official ribbon cutting prior to opening the stretch.