The cost of reconstructing Bushaway Road, a major project along Lake Minnetonka that has seen delays and spending hikes, has risen by $2.4 million — boosting the total price tag to nearly $60 million for the roadwork from Minnetonka to Wayzata.
The increase, approved by the Hennepin County Board last week as crews approach the second year of construction, is the result of needed redesigns for retaining walls along a new railroad bridge and rerouting the road around American Indian burial mounds discovered in the construction's path last year, officials said.
"We're working as fast as we can," said Dan Allmaras, the county's project engineer. "We're still on track."
When construction began in 2014, the road closures were scheduled to end last fall and cost $41 million. Now, the total project cost, including design, is at $59.6 million — including $46.7 million for construction — and the road, part of County Road 101, isn't expected to open until this fall.
The delays have frustrated residents, commuters and businesses who have dealt with detours the past two years.
"Wayzata has felt like it's had its share," said Becky Pierson, who heads the local chamber of commerce. "We're not exactly sure why it's taken longer than it was supposed to."
The winding century-old road is an important route around Lake Minnetonka, with more than 11,000 motorists using it each day. Last year, Wayzata even put up billboards to remind drivers that businesses were still open and accessible by detours.
Since May, the county has shut down a nearly 2-mile stretch of the road, between Minnetonka Boulevard and McGinty Road near Grays Bay. That stretch is scheduled to reopen Sept. 15, and a new bridge over BNSF railroad tracks is slated to open Nov. 1.
"We have crews working pretty steadily," county spokesman Colin Cox said. "This is designed to be a road to last years."
To update the community, the county is hosting a meeting Thursday in Wayzata.
Years in the making
When the project is done, crews will have removed crumbling 50-year-old asphalt, widened a 2.2-mile stretch, added turn lanes, put in new sewers, added an 8-foot-wide bike and pedestrian trail, and replaced what was supposed to be a temporary 23-year-old bridge over railroad tracks.
In 2009, the project was expected to cost $19 million. But by 2013, the price tag had been bumped up to $30 million due to more than $11 million in railroad and sewer work, along with other water main work, the county said.
In 2014, bids came in higher than expected, partly because of more detailed plans, rising material prices and high water levels on the lake. Construction costs rose to $41 million, officials said; since then they've continued to climb.
The county and state are paying 67 percent of the costs, while the Metropolitan Council, Wayzata, Minnetonka and Woodland are dividing the balance.
The county says the latest cost increase and delay are partly due to the redesigns of retaining walls along the new BNSF bridge to meet railway standards.
"It's driving the schedule," Allmaras said.
Then when burial mounds were discovered last year after bulldozers unearthed bone fragments, plans were redrawn at the Breezy Point intersection. A roundabout was nixed and the road realigned.
Restoration of damaged mounds is ongoing, with about 12 archaeologists, Hamline University students and Dakota tribal members helping to screen for human remains and burial goods. Brian Hoffman, an associate professor at Hamline, said the group hopes to finish the work by this fall.
The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council has worked with the state to make sure it doesn't happen again, added Jim Jones, the cultural resources director.
First road in the state
Bushaway Road, which dates to the mid-1800s, is thought to be the first registered road in Minnesota after statehood. That history, and the road's towering trees, have made roadwork controversial from the start.
Residents protested efforts by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in the 1980s, and then by the county when the state highway became a county road.
When the current project met resistance, the county reduced the road's planned width to reduce the number of felled trees.
Now residents just want to see the work come to an end.
"There are so many kinks in the construction project; there were some days we couldn't leave our house," said Ron Anderson, who just sold his house of 26 years in part due to the construction. "Everything is behind schedule."
However, resident Mark Morris said he understood it's a lengthy project and was excited about the improvements.
"We've been anticipating this for many years," he said of the project. "And we'll be glad when it's done."