Drivers are accustomed to orange cones and lane closures and detour signs every summer, but a major highway project in the southwest metro will be longer and more complicated than most.

Beginning May 30 and lasting nearly to Labor Day, crews will tackle a slew of problems along a four-mile stretch of Hwy. 5 in Carver County, from Hwy. 41 in Chanhassen, west past the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to County Road 11 in Victoria.

"Instead of impacting the locals for several construction seasons, we're doing it all at once," said Ken Slama, a project engineer at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

"It's a much greater impact but it's for a much shorter time."

The $9.6 million job will resurface the entire four miles, and widen shoulders to eight feet where possible. It will also install new drainage pipes, rebuild a road section in Victoria that has settling problems, reconstruct a bridge over a recreational trail, build a pedestrian underpass near the arboretum, and add turn lanes on connecting roads.

MnDOT spokesman J. P. Gillach said that bundling so many different projects together was unusual, but it was the clear choice of local businesses and individuals who spoke out at planning meetings and open houses.

"They told us to get in and get out, and to shut the highway down if we need to, as long as we're done in one [construction] season," he said.

The highway will remain open to local traffic. But because of the equipment, lane restrictions, congestion and slower speeds, MnDOT detours will route most drivers to Hwy. 212, a southern route.

Victoria rallies support

The Hwy. 5 project will affect the city of Victoria most because the road divides the town's business district on the north side from its mostly residential south side.

Community development director Holly Kreft said the city has been planning for months to let residents and others know that its 76 storefront businesses will be open as usual.

"We're trying to highlight that people can still get anywhere in Victoria during the project," she said. "There will be access to every business all the time."

The city is placing signs along detour routes reminding drivers that local businesses are open. And many homeowners have put red and white "Think Victoria" signs in their front yards, showing that they have pledged to increase purchases from local businesses, attend summer sales and events, and encourage others to do the same.

Kreft said it'll be a long summer, but worth it at the end when the road is smoother, safer and more accessible.

Another major component will be installing an underpass below the highway just west of the arboretum. Traffic on the highway will be closed in both directions there for about five weeks, beginning sometime after the July 4 weekend. That will spawn an additional slew of detours, mostly on county roads.

"Our anxiety meter is up a little bit, because we want visitors to know that [the] arboretum will remain open the entire time throughout the construction process," said Judy Hohmann, its marketing and communications manager. "Visitors driving west on Highway 5 will always be able to get into [the] arboretum at the entrance, the same as always," she said. The arboretum has a full slate of summer activities, including nearly 100 weddings.

Those who want to visit the arboretum's "Summer House," well-known for selling apples, plants and other products, will have a more challenging task. It is located about 1 1/2 miles west of the arboretum entrance and will remain open all summer, said Hohmann, but drivers will need to follow detour signs to get there in July and August.

Hohmann said the completion of the underpass will allow pedestrians and especially bikers to reach the arboretum more safely, and will be a critical link as larger recreational trail systems expand in the area.

Free bus rides

Killach said that MnDOT's web page about the project will be updated frequently during the summer, and that anyone can subscribe to an e-mail list to receive news and alerts about it. The agency estimates that 25,000 vehicle trips are made on the highway near Chanhassen every day.

To east the strain caused by slower traffic as the road is resurfaced, and detours and closures where work is especially heavy, SouthWest Transit is adding bus service to Victoria and Waconia, beginning May 30 and continuing through August.

Four morning express routes will go from the Waconia Ice Arena and the Victoria Recreation Center to downtown Minneapolis, with one of them continuing to the University of Minnesota. Three afternoon trips will take commuters home.

The first month on the special routes will be free, with costs paid by the MnDOT, SouthWest Transit and Carver County.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388