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The Minnesota Department of Transportation's District 1 has received an excellence award from the Federal Highway Administration's Excellence in Highway Design Biennial Awards Program for the job it did rebuilding Minnesota Highway 1 between Ely and Isabella. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Transportation)

Two Northland highway projects earn national recognition

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Lake County News Chronicle
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Two Northland highway projects earn national recognition
Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

Two Northland highway projects undertaken by the regional office of the Minnesota Department of Transportation have received national recognition.

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The reconstruction of Minnesota Highway 1 between Ely and Isabella received an excellence award from the Federal Highway Administration's Excellence in Highway Design Biennial Awards Program. The rehabilitation of the Split Rock Lighthouse Overlook along Minnesota Highway 61 received an honorable mention.

MnDOT, the U.S. Forest Service and Lake County began working together in

2001 to rebuild the most dangerous sections of Highway 1. Balancing competing public demands for a high-speed, straight highway and a

low-speed, winding road, the parties settled on a design that straightened curves only where necessary and incorporated features that reduced

environmental impacts.

Crashes along the rebuilt section of highway have decreased 71 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

"We took such care with Highway 1," said John Bray, spokesman for MnDOT

District 1, which has headquarters in Duluth. "It is one of the most beautiful areas of the state. You just can't build a traditional road. When we walk away we want to be proud of what we left behind. What we've done from the Kawishiwi River south is just awesome."

The 2010 awards in 10 categories were announced at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' annual meeting in Biloxi, Miss.

"It's great that the Highway 1 job in particular was recognized because of the level of public involvement, the level of public interest, the differing viewpoints on what should be done and how it all came

together and really satisfied most everybody," said Todd Campbell, the MnDOT manager on both projects. "That job is still held out as a fine example of context-sensitive solutions."

The Highway 1 project won in the Rural Highways category. Successful projects in the category "are those which provide a safe roadway for the diverse travelers while remaining in harmony with the surroundings," according to the Federal Highway Administration.

"Highway 1, winding through the stunning Superior National Forest, follows the existing segments of the historically significant alignment to the extent feasible while straightening curves where necessary," the agency noted in its list of excellence award-winners.

The Split Rock Lighthouse Overlook along Minnesota Highway 61 received an honorable mention in the Traveler Services category. The category judges projects in part on how the service improves the experience of travelers as well as how well the project blends into the environment. The Highway 61 project restored and preserved a historic wayside rest along the North Shore.

The project was one of seven nominations in the category, U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nancy Singer said. The Highway 1 project was one of 10 nominations in its category.

This is not the first Excellence in Highway Design Award MnDOT District 1 has won. It is the 10th dating back to 1992 -- more than any other MnDOT district during that time, Bray said.

"We jokingly say: 'They call us (District) 1 for a reason,'" Bray said. "We are very proud."

MnDOT's other districts were not shut out in the 2010 awards. The new Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis received the Excellence Award in the structures greater than $10 million category.

The bridge replaced the one that collapsed in 2007.

"Despite the challenges and aggressive schedule, the new segmental concrete 'smart bridge' features a progressive design of new technology and achieves a vision for quality, safety and innovation," the award reads.

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Steve Kuchera
(218) 279-5503
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