After decades without any changes, winding Bushaway Road on Lake Minnetonka — claimed to be the first registered road after Minnesota became a state — is getting a major renovation.
Starting in September, the more than 11,000 motorists who drive the historic roadway will start seeing the $41 million construction project after a lengthy process of gathering input, reworking designs and approving plans. Construction includes widening and repaving the century-old road, and putting in a trail along Bushaway, part of County Road 101.
"It's a lot of inconvenience; we don't look forward to that at all," said Ron Anderson, a longtime Wayzata resident on Bushaway Road and a retired University of Minnesota professor who runs the Bushaway Preservation Fund. "But we look forward to having a trail and new landscaping."
The Hennepin County Board approved construction contracts Aug. 19, with work expected to start in September, going through this winter and next year, ending in early 2016. Next month, commuters will start seeing excavation on the Breezy Point curve and intersection, and Eastman Lane will close to through traffic for utility and road work.
The project on the tree-lined road, considered the eastern gateway to Lake Minnetonka and a local scenic byway, was initially expected to start last spring, but it got pushed back because of public involvement in agreeing to details before approving bids, said Nick Peterson, the county's project manager.
The cost has also gone up.
In 2009, the project was expected to cost $19 million, but added railroad and sewer work boosted the price tag to $30 million. Now, bids are higher than expected in part because of more detailed plans, Peterson said, increasing the price to $41 million.
Additional materials and extensive utility work were needed, material prices were more volatile than predicted and the amount of material that needs to be removed was greater than anticipated — all contributing to bringing up the cost, Peterson said.
Also boosting the budget — high water levels on Lake Minnetonka this year, he said, which increased bids to cover anticipated costs related to the wet soil. Construction areas were also narrowed to minimize the impact on the community and landscape architectural details were added, driving up the cost, he said.
Hennepin County and the state are expected to pay 67 percent of the costs, while the Metropolitan Council, Wayzata, Minnetonka and Woodland will pay the rest.
Wayzata City Council Member Jack Amdal, who lives near Bushaway, said the project will be expedited by closing the road to only local traffic, wrapping up in just under two years. But it will mean diverting commuters, bikers and boaters.
"The commuters, the community, even the bike trail … people using the boat landing … all will be impacted," he said. "It's no doubt a big project."
The project has been decades in the making, aiming to improve crumbling 50-year-old asphalt, widen 2.2 miles of Bushaway from Minnetonka Boulevard to Hwy. 12, put in new sewers and add an 8-foot-wide bike and pedestrian trail. Lanes in each direction will also be redone with wider shoulders and turn lanes, and a roundabout at Breezy Point Road will be put in. Also, what was supposed to be a temporary 23-year-old bridge over railroad tracks will be replaced and tracks below it lowered.
By 2032, the county estimates that up to 15,600 vehicles will use the stretch each day.
"It's sort of the entrance to Lake Minnetonka and it's not changed in decades," Amdal said. "[Now] it's going to have a more urban feel with curbs and gutters."
The road dates back to the mid-1800s. Doing any work to it has long been controversial because of the history, trees, lake and affluent homes around it. Residents protested efforts first by MnDOT in the 1980s and then by Hennepin County when the state highway became a county road.
"This is a rich history; not everyone understands how much it's going to change," Amdal said. "Part of me is sad … but the mode of transportation and trails are making us connected."
The county worked with residents last year when they opposed details about the project including the width of the roadway, reducing it from four lanes and a median to just two lanes with some turn lanes. Instead of cutting down more than 800 trees, the county reduced it to about 200 trees.
"All parties seem to be content with the situation," Anderson said. "Some neighbors are not that happy. But there are trade-offs."
Documenting the road
Minnetonka Beach filmmaker Steve Doyle is trying to document that tension and the years of working to reach a compromise. The former KMSP-TV anchorman and reporter and WCCO-TV producer is working on a documentary about the picturesque road before construction, filming it and interviewing residents and officials.
The 30-minute documentary is being funded by private donations and, Doyle hopes, will be shown on local TV and distributed to other communities next year. He plans to return after construction to document the new road.
"It's to archive the road as it looks now, to tell the story of the road and also to tell the story of the David and Goliath battle … the neighborhood grass roots efforts that sprung up on Bushaway," Doyle said. "It's a good story … of people who really stuck with it over 20-25 years and have been able to strike up a compromise. It's inspiring."