Winona hopes to install guardrails soon
by CHRIS ROGERS
The city of Winona delayed until next spring a project to repave Riverview Drive. For now, that leaves the corner where Huff Street/Riverview Drive meets the Mississippi River — and where a total of nine people died in two fatal crashes in 1997 and 2014 — without any railing or substantial barrier. However, city staff said construction of a new guardrail around the corner will likely be completed this year.
“I would say [there is] a very high chance of doing the guardrail this year,” Winona City Engineer Brian DeFrang stated. “We’re pushing the contractor pretty hard to get that in this year.”
The $3.5-million project will resurface Riverview Drive from Huff Street to Pelzer Street, replace old traffic lights at Huff and Second streets, and install new guardrails extending all the way around the riverside corner. The guardrails are meant to reduce the chances of vehicles leaving the roadway and going down a levee embankment and into the river. Construction was originally slated to begin last month and end this fall. Because of delays in getting the project approved by state-funding authorities and a months-long backlog of orders at stoplight suppliers, city staff pushed back the project completion deadline to June 30, 2020. The contract does not require the contractor to install the new guardrail before then, but DeFrang said, “The contractor has more or less told me they’re willing to do it this year.” DeFrang said he could not provide more specific information about when the guardrails would be installed until after a pre-construction meeting with the contractor next week.
Before the start of the Winona interstate bridge construction project in 2014, there was no guardrail extending to the curve where Riverview Drive takes a 90-degree turn along the edge of the Mississippi River and where vehicles in the two fatal crashes plunged into the river. For the past five years, the corner has been protected by concrete Jersey barriers temporarily placed between traffic and a construction staging area. As the bridge project wrapped up this summer, those barriers were removed. Now only orange traffic cones line the edge of the curve.
“We need to do something about it,” Mayor Mark Peterson said in 2017, looking forward to how the city would treat the corner once the bridge project ended and the Jersey barriers were removed. “It’s an intersection where we’ve had a lot of horrible things happen, and I want to make sure we make it safer.”
If the new guardrails are not installed until 2020, would that be safe and acceptable? DeFrang responded, referring to the corner pre-bridge-construction state, “If it does not get done this year, it’s like every other year when we didn’t have the Jersey barriers.” He added, “It’s 99-percent [certain] they’ll be in, so it’s almost a non-question.”
When construction does fire up in the spring, Riverview Drive will remain open, but for a significant portion of the project only one lane will be open. Directed by flaggers, drivers will have to take turns getting through. “Unless you really need to go that way, you’re really not going to want to go that way because it’s going to be a black gravel road,” DeFrang advised.
The delay in repaving Riverview Drive means commuters and truckers will have to deal with ruts for several more months. However, it also means the road construction project will not have to contend with oversized tractor-trailers hauling super-long wind turbine blades along Riverview Drive. When stubbornly high river levels delayed the transport of those blades by barge to the Port of Winona this summer, it appeared the Riverview Drive construction project and blade-hauling trucking operations would coincide, but the road project’s postponement eliminates that issue.