Josie Scheerz is relieved that in two years, she won’t hear frequent crashes and sirens while she’s at work.
“I couldn’t be happier,” she said. “There are a lot of accidents out here and it’ll be nice not to hear those while we’re working.”
As a salesperson at Fantasy Gifts, on the frontage road off Hwy. 13 and County Road 5 in Burnsville, she’s near the intersection with one of the highest crash rates in the state.
Dakota County began a two-year construction project this spring to create an interchange — County Road 5 will be a bridge going over Hwy. 13, with loops and ramps connecting the two, instead of the current traffic lights at the intersection. The project will cost $27.5 million in construction alone, and is expected to improve traffic flow and reduce crashes.
Seven businesses along the frontage road near Fantasy Gifts were torn down to make room, and that is actually helping business, Scheerz said.
“There’s just a lot more open space, so from [Hwy.] 13 people can see us, where they wouldn’t have before,” she said. “We’re going to be a lot more visible. It’s going to end up being quite to our advantage.”
Other nearby businesses aren’t so lucky. Some have seen a drop in customers as crews work along the frontage roads.
The county is saving the actual construction on Hwy. 13 for next year, when it will excavate and drop the highway by 23 feet to make room for the bridge overhead. Crews are updating utilities — sewers and water mains. They are also upgrading signal systems and improving the frontage roads. Next, they’ll construct a noise wall.
“Right now, it’s basically work all around 13, trying to get as much done as we can without impacting 13 too much, because that’s obviously where the biggest traffic volumes are,” said Dakota County Construction Engineer Ross Beckwith. “So, we’re trying to minimize that impact and push it all to next year to make it one year instead of two.”
Rather than completely close the highway, the plan is to reduce it to one lane in each direction and work on half at a time.
Businesses are bracing for a struggle with that. Some assumed the highway would be completely closed.
“It’s really going to cause a problem,” said Larry Mindt, a used car mechanic at Park Chrysler Jeep along the frontage road near the intersection. “People might not be able to get here, and if they are a new customer, they may just go look for another dealership.”
Down the road, another dealership, All Cars, has already seen a slightly slower stream of customers. A large “Open During Construction” sign is posted next to the building’s name plate.
“As long as you’ve got the roadway open and people can come, that’s the big thing,” said salesman Greg Anderson. “We do get a lot of repeat customers, and that helps us, too.”
Merv Sheplee, a Carquest employee, stops by the dealership several times a day to deliver auto parts. “Places like this, it’s been a little harder to get to,” he said. “I feel sorry for the businesses who rely on drive-by customers. But it’s just the way it is.”
Tom Smith, a manager at Cassidy-Tricker Industrial Sales along the frontage road, says most business is done over the phone. Construction crews shut down the business’ side lot for a day to run utilities, but otherwise, it hasn’t been affected. But “it’s going to be a struggle getting in and out of the area,” he said.
Further down the frontage road, at McKracken’s Pub, employee Dann Lickness has seen fewer customers during lunch and happy hour. But the business makes up for that by having live bands Thursday through Sunday nights, he said. “That’s just the way two seasons go in Minnesota — winter and construction,” he said.
Longtime Burnsville resident Ann Phillips is already fed up with the construction, and says it’s “disgusting” and she “just can’t believe” that this will continue for two years. She regularly drives along Hwy. 13 to get to Oriental Market on the frontage road, where crews are adding a turn lane.
“It’s just kind of a pain in the butt, to tell you the truth,” Phillips said. “You don’t know what you’re going to encounter. It’s like, just give me a break. I’m so frustrated, I just want out of this.”
For U.S. Postal Service mail carrier Scott Koukal, who delivers to residents and businesses in areas around the construction, the project has not slowed down his route too much, but has posed some challenges.
“Where it’s really been difficult is all the sewer work on my route, where all the curbs and mailboxes are torn up,” he said.
After the 2014 work on Hwy. 13, 2015 will be used for cleanup, restoration and landscaping, Beckwith said.
“It’s a good thing we’ve got these frontage roads here, because they’re working pretty good for moving traffic around to keep the businesses going,” he said. “It seems to be working pretty well.”