This report details some Minnesota notes from a trip up to my aunt's cabin, during my 2004 summer vacation in mid-June, 2004.

Froggie's 2004 Summer Vacation:  the Minnesota Grand Round

Froggie's Summer Vacation: the Minnesota Grand Round

Have some time to continue my series of roadtrip reports from my summer vacation. In addition to general trips around the Twin Cities metro, Meaghan and I took a 3-day trip around a large part of central, northern, and southwestern Minnesota, including stops at Lake Itasca, my aunt's cabin in Todd County (where we stayed for two nights), and the historical marker in the southwestern corner of the state. Some notes:

- The trip out began with the usual gas/breakfast stops, then getting on I-35W north to near downtown Minneapolis, a short jaunt along the MN 65 freeway spur (seeing the new 0.1 milemarkers in the process), then taking the ramp to WB I-94. While taking this single-lane 35 MPH flyover, I was thinking of various proposals I've recently heard or read to widen the ramp to two lanes. Then I got to thinking how such a widening would require a full reconstruction of the ramp, and then the merge situation on WB I-94 that would be made worse by such a widening.

- While traveling through the Lowry Hill Tunnel, was wondering about another proposal I'd heard: to restripe the tunnel to provide 4 lanes in each direction. Theoretically possible, but would result in lanes less than 11 feet wide. Not sure if it'd be worth the effort.

- Kept on I-94 West, through the I-94/694 reconstruction in Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove, which seems to be going well. From CSAH 152/Brooklyn Blvd to just east of CSAH 81, traffic is utilizing the completed eastbound lanes, while the westbound lanes are reconstructed. Traffic is briefly on its own travelways at the CSAH 81 interchange, then west of CSAH 81 to just west of US 169, all traffic is in the westbound lanes. West of US 169, traffic is on each of its own sides, with construction going on in the median. All reconstruction between US 169 and CSAH 152 had concrete lanes and asphalt shoulders.

- A small area of I-94 in Maple Grove between CSAH 109 and CSAH 30 has had cable median barrier installed. Not sure if this is going to be expanded to the rest of the 6-lane section (between I-494 and MN 101) or not.

- Since last year, traffic signals have been added on the WB ramps at both the MN 241 and CSAH 37 (in Albertville) interchanges. Further northwest, traffic was using the original westbound lanes through the MnROAD research area.

- A VMS has been installed on WB I-94 a couple miles east of the MN 24 interchange, something that was never there before. Presumably to warn winter travelers of road conditions (I-94 often is closed west of Sauk Centre due to blizzards/heavy snowfalls) and summer vacation goers of conditions further up I-94 or on US 10.

- Exited at MN 24 for the short jaunt over to US 10. Not reported during last year's trip, but existed then: a Marathon station at the MN 24/CSAH 75 intersection in Clearwater. Also, a traffic signal was recently installed at MN 24/Sherburne CSAH 8, about a mile before you get to Clear Lake.

- Replacement signage (but no changes to what existed before) at the US 10/MN 23 interchange. Note to Matt Salek: said interchange should be "Exit 178AB" (if MnDOT ever used exit numbers on non-Interstates). Milepost 178 is right at the MN 23 overpass. Long-range plans (part of a planned freeway upgrade to US 10 through St. Cloud) are to reconstruct the interchange as a folded-diamond.

- Roadwork at the US 10/MN 15 merge. Some sort of pavement rehab.

- The new interchange at Benton CSAH 33 is nice. It's a partial-folded-diamond (effectively a diamond, but with a loop for the EB off-ramp), and all ramps are in concrete. MnDOT also reconstructed about 1/4 mile of US 10 on either side of the overpass...also in concrete (with asphalt shoulders).

- MnDOT have BNSF have done more railroad signal upgrades along the mainline that parallels US 10 (a good route for railgeeks, BTW). All along the stretch from Clear Lake to Little Falls, almost all crossings now have signals and gates. There are a few "holdout" crossings remaining that don't have signals and gates, but those are very few and are low-traffic crossings.

- Was in a daze going through Royalton, and missed the 40 MPH speed limit, though the city cop didn't. He caught up to me a couple miles outside town...55 in a 40. Luckily, instead of a ticket he gave me a speeding citation, which doesn't cost points, but did provide $70 to the city of Royalton (all incorporated municipalities in Minnesota are termed "cities").  I acquiesced (sp?)....figure that the money'll maybe help them build a MUCH NEEDED bypass.  Royalton is the only location between Motley and Big Lake where the speed limit drops below 50. What made the traffic stop ironic is that, in trying to get a picture of the US 10/CSAH 26 intersection in town, I snagged an image of the SPEED LIMIT 40 sign just before the intersection.

- After exiting US 10 and taking MN 371, I pondered about the upcoming reconstruction of MN 371 just north of Little Falls. The existing 4-lane segment ends just north of CSAH 46, about 2.5 miles north of US 10. The plan (which was selected as one of the Governor's Bonding Projects) is to build a new MN 371 on new alignment just east of the RR spur that serves Camp Ripley.  This new MN 371 will be a freeway, with interchanges at CSAH 46 and MN 115/CSAH 47, before returning to expressway at CSAH 48 (about 7 miles north of US 10). The project just completed the EIS phase, and is expected to begin next year.

- Further north on MN 371, good news. The new 4-laning is complete and begins about 1 mile north of CSAH 48 (8 miles north of US 10 or 3 miles south of the Morrison/Crow Wing County line). VERY good news for MN 371 travelers (including and in particular the summertime vacationers). The new lanes are the northbound lanes. The previously existing lanes were already fairly well up to code (having been reconstructed or heavily rehabbed back in 1985), and so were simply resurfaced and are now the southbound lanes.

- Near Morrison CSAH 27, the new lanes diverge from the old alignment a bit, creating a roughly 1/3 mile wide median. Part of the purpose for this was to preserve an old grove of trees. The other purpose is a now-underway plan to build a new Rest Area and Welcome center within that median, accessed off CSAH 27.

- Stayed on MN 371, where the Brainerd Bypass and the interchange at BUS MN 371 are old news. Traffic is a bit slow-going now through Baxter, due in part to a lot of commercial and big-box development along MN 371 for the first couple miles north of MN 210. This area had always been a commercial area...just even moreso now. There's even a Best Buy along here. Sadly, the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, part of an old amusement part (and now more commercial development) are long-gone.

- Attached underneath the city limit sign for Nisswa, there's a "Community Policed City" sign. Also, another Marathon gas station sighted at the MN 371/CSAH 77/CSAH 13 intersection in Nisswa.

- 2010 won't come a moment too soon. That's when MnDOT begins widening MN 371 to 4 lanes between Nisswa and Pine River. Even on a weekday, traffic is heavy.

- Smokey Bear warned of Moderate fire danger in Pequot Lakes.  Speaking of Pequot Lakes, there used to be a time when the traffic signal in Pequot Lakes (at CSAH 11) was the ONLY signal between MN 210 and US 2.  Nowadays, there are 10 signals.

- Stayed on MN 371 until Pine River, where we took a side trip up MN 84 to my grandfather's old cabin on Island my uncle's retirement home.  Driving this stretch brings back a lot of old childhood memories (including one time when MnDOT didn't even have no passing zones along MN 84...just a broken yellow line for a centerline).

- After showing Meaghan the old cabin area, we headed west to Hackensack.  Rather than drop down to MN 87, or continuing up MN 84 to CSAH 11 and then CSAH 5, I decided to take CSAH 46, another part of my nostalgic youth. CSAH 46 is a connector between MN 84 and CSAH 5, an all-gravel route that serves as local access to some of the area lakes and the Deep Portage Conservation Reserve. The first few miles from MN 84 are still this way, though with a fresh coat of gravel, and the "Limited Visibility Next 8 Miles" sign still well inplace.

- Much to my surprise, though, just before the turn to Deep Portage, the road became paved! This was a complete surprise to me, as I never expected CSAH 46 to have the traffic or the priority to be paved. Nevertheless, it is now paved from the Deep Portage entrance to CSAH 5. As for CSAH 5 (which as been paved for decades), I noticed that Cass County has upgraded the shoulders somewhat along the route...4-6' paved shoulders exist on each side, and various intersections have right-turn-lanes.

- Got back on MN 371 at Hackensack and continued north. The southern junction with MN 200 has recently been reengineered and signalized. MN 200 is still configured as the through route, with SB 371 having a "free right", and NB 371 intersection MN 200 and turning left. A 4th leg of the intersection exists now:  serving the relatively new Northern Lights Casino. Also, the first mile or so of the MN 200/371 duplex now has a center left-turn lane.

- Two signals now in Walker...15 years ago there were none. One of them is at the MN 34 junction.

- Took MN 371 up to Cass Lake, then west on US 2. The 4-laning on US 2 between Cass Lake and the Bemidji Bypass is still relatively new (and the pavement still looks relatively new). This 4-laning was completed in 1999, IIRC. Stayed on US 2 until the US 71/MN 197 junction, then exited onto MN 197.

- MnDOT is in the middle of doing a LOT of work to reconstruct MN 197 through Bemidji. Most of the work thus far has concentrated on the south end of town.  The intersection with CSAH 50/Paul Bunyon Dr (in a past time the US 2/71 split and also where US 371 ended prior to 1973) has been reengineered and signalized.  NB MN 197 still turns onto itself, but has two left turn lanes to do it with now. Further north, MN 197 has VERY recently been split onto a pair of one-way roads in the area between Lake Irving and Lake Bemidji. Paving operations were still underway on the day we travelled through. Northbound traffic continues using Paul Bunyan Dr here, while SB traffic now follows what was formerly Midway Dr.

- The current reconstruction projects end at 2nd St, just north of the reconstructed Mississippi River bridge crossing. Future projects will continue the reconstruction north through the heart of Bemidji.

- Turned left onto 5th St to follow CSAH 7 and the Great River Road (GRR) out of Bemidji. As CSAH 7 does not exist through the center part of Bemidji, the only indication that this is the turn to make is a small GRR trailblazer.

- Initially ignored warnings of a road closure, while continuing on CSAH 7 southwest of Bemidji, crossing the Mississippi again along the way. Then the reason for the warnings came up abruptly: Beltrami CSAH 7 turns into Hubbard CSAH 3 at the county line, and the first mile or so of CSAH 3 was completely closed for what looked to be a full reconstruction. The detour route had one turning to the left (east) to follow a gravel road that went God-knows-where.  After consulting my DeLorme, we turned to the right and followed another gravel road that brought us back to CSAH 3 outside the construction zone, and about 3 miles southwest of where we began.

- Continued on CSAH 3, then turned right (west) onto CSAH 9, which apparently is the south end of the detour. If the detour route follows where I think it does, it adds 7 miles to the trip, while the route I took did not add any mileage.  Hubbard CSAH 9 becomes Clearwater CSAH 40. MnDOT has a signed "Rest Area" at the county line, named "Coffee Pot Landing" on the maps, which serves as a canoe/boat access to the Mississippi. Further west, we crossed the Mississippi for a third time before CSAH 40 ends at CSAH 2. Turned left onto CSAH 2, crossed the river for a FOURTH time (just a culvert at this location), and took CSAH 2 down to MN 200 and the north entrance to Lake Itasca State Park.

- Went into the state park, and stopped to walk to the Mississippi headwaters and wade this location, the "Mighty Mississippi" is a whopping 20 feet wide and maybe 5-6 inches deep. After doing some wading, we got back to the car and followed the "Wilderness Drive", which is a mostly-one-way and VERY SCENIC drive through the heart of Lake Itasca State Park.

- After finishing the Wilderness Drive, we continued south on Hubbard CR 122, which is another scenic drive down to the south entrance to the park. We joined US 71 after that and continued south to Menahga (collecting Wadena County for Meaghan), where we followed MN 87 west with the goal of collecting Becker County for Meaghan. After about 5 miles on MN 87, we turned south onto Becker CSAH 49, with the intent of blazing south through Otter Tail County to get down to my aunt's cabin and beat out some storms that we saw approaching. The storms wound up catching up to us near Parkers Prairie, but they were small enough to where there wasn't a significant effect on the trip.

- From Parkers Prairie, we took MN 29 south to Alexandria and pick up groceries for the cabin. MnDOT is undertaking a major reconstruction project on 3rd Ave in Alexandria. 3rd Ave is the east-west section of the MN 27/29 duplex, and was formerly US 52 before I-94 was built. The reconstruction project has the roadway completely closed, with two separate detours listed.  Trucks are directed to use CSAH 43/McKay Ave, which turns into CSAH 46 south of MN 27 and loops back around to the southern MN 27/29 junction. Cars are directed to use Nokomis St and 6th St as the detour. From what I've seen, the reconstruction will be nice, and will provide 2 lanes each direction with turn lanes, and dual left-turn lanes for MN 29 traffic where it makes the turns at Nokomis St and Broadway. The project will also reconstruct a part of MN 27, for about 1/2 mile east of MN 29.

- Picked up groceries and then headed to the cabin, where we laid low for a couple days, though we did take a tour around the Alexandria lakes and down to the outskirts of Glenwood. Saw that an old-style MN 29 junction sign still exists (for now) in Alexandria: the MN 29 shield is a white square with black numbers...nothing more. Down in Glenwood, noted that MN 29 is the through route at the MN 29/55 junction, while MN 55 traffic stops. Also noticed the diamond interchange at MN 55/28 on the east end of town, and interchange between two 2-lane roads, where MN 55 is the through route.

That's it for this run. Next up: the return trip to Burnsville, via the SW corner.

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