Slow down and pay attention to road signs. And be assured you can find your way into downtown Nisswa to stores, restaurants and other businesses.
That’s the message to both permanent and seasonal residents maneuvering through Highway 371 construction in Nisswa through this fall. Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) officials hosted an open house Wednesday, May 15, at Nisswa City Hall to explain the construction timeline and answer questions. About 30 residents and business owners attended.
Highway improvement work got under way in earnest Monday, May 13:
• Highway 371 traffic has shifted to one lane in each direction on the northbound lanes while the southbound lanes are reconstructed.
• The former highway stoplight at Main Street and Hazelwood Drive is no longer functioning.
• A temporary highway stoplight at Nisswa Avenue just north of the former light is now working and provides full access to downtown.
• Southbound Highway 371 must exit at the Nisswa Avenue signal to access downtown Nisswa.
• Those exiting downtown Nisswa to southbound Highway 371 must also use the Nisswa Avenue signal.
• There is now a four-way stop at Nisswa Avenue and Main Street downtown, near the post office and historical society property.
• The former entrance to Nisswa from Highway 371 at the Triangle store is permanently closed.
Motorists are encountering orange barrels and posts, concrete barriers and numerous signs directing them to where they need to be. And the speed limit through the construction area is 45 mph.
Safety is of utmost concern, and retailers want to make sure there is no question how to get into downtown Nisswa.
“Safety is always our primary concern,” Joe Cameron, MnDOT project manager, said after the open house. “We’ve worked with local partners including the city of Nisswa, business owners and residents to develop safe and efficient traffic control plans. All businesses and residences are easily accessible. We just encourage everyone to slow down and drive with due diligence.”
Mark Ulm of Zaiser’s told MnDOT officials that 75 percent of retailers’ business occurs from mid-July through August, so it’s important for tourists to find their way into Nisswa easily.
Currently there are three accesses to downtown Nisswa: at the County Road 18 roundabout and at the former stoplight when traveling from the south; and at the temporary stoplight at Nisswa Avenue when traveling from the north or south.
MnDOT officials advised travelers to get used to accessing downtown via the temporary stoplight at Nisswa Avenue, because that will be the only access come mid-summer.
Retailers at the open house were told to keep a positive spin on the construction and to keep the final result in mind.
“We will have an amazing presence on the highway and into our community come October,” said Shawn Hansen, Nisswa chamber president. “There will be painstaking times until then, so what can we do to minimize that and get people to downtown?”
Cameron advocated educating local residents, and tourists will follow those local drivers.
J.P. Gillach, MnDOT communications specialist, advised retailers to keep positive about the road work, educate customers and use the situation as a marketing opportunity.
“Spin it in a positive manner. Even if it’s next year, say this will be awesome,” he said, noting the importance now of coping and getting people to the businesses. “Tell people, ‘You can get here.’
“Nisswa is a destination,” he said. “They’re coming here to find you. You have that going for you.”
Another concern voiced is that there is now no access point for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the highway. People have climbed over concrete barriers, which isn’t safe.
Cameron said they are trying to devise a way to handle pedestrians safely. MnDOT also will continue to look to see if it can improve signage. Some suggested using radar trailers that post motorists’ speed as they drive by as a way to encourage those motorists to slow down to the 45 mph speed limit through the construction zone.
“We want extra police presence to enforce that (speed limit),” Cameron said.
The project is being done in stages: first the southbound lanes are being reconstructed; at the end of July or beginning of August, traffic will switch to those new southbound lanes as northbound lanes are reconstructed. The highway will be raised for a pedestrian tunnel to be constructed; Smiley Road in front of Nisswa Square will be reconstructed; a permanent traffic light will be located at the new Highway 371-County Road 18 intersection; and final paving and striping will be done after all four highway lanes are reopened.
Cameron estimated the project would be complete around Nov. 1. The project was extended 28 days because of the late winter snow that didn’t allow work to begin in April.
Brochures detailing the highway construction work will be made available to area resorts, etc., and MnDOT will have up-to-date information on its website at mndot.gov/d3/hwy371nisswa.