That long slowdown through St. Peter for people traveling north and south on Highway 169 is going to become a bit slower this summer and fall.

Travelers won’t see a difference through the July Fourth weekend, but starting the following Monday traffic will be detoured around the downtown area. That’s when a major project, funded by federal stimulus money and expected to last until Thanksgiving, gets under way.

Information about every phase of the project was available to the public during an open house at the St. Peter Community Center Thursday night. The Minnesota Department of Transportation hosted the event, which laid out plans to build medians through a 12-block area in St. Peter’s core commercial district.

“Pedestrian safety was one of the main targets we were after,” said Peter Harff, a MnDOT project engineer.

Wide medians will be placed at key points in the downtown district. They will block vehicles crossing at those points, restricting traffic by making entrances to, and exits from, Highway 169 a right turn only, while providing a safe haven for pedestrians crossing the busy, four-lane road.

Estimated crossing times are projected to be reduced for pedestrians. It takes about 25 seconds to walk across all four lanes now. It will take about nine seconds to cross from one side to the median, then another nine seconds to cross from the median to the opposite sidewalk.

It’s a project that’s been in the planning stages for years, but came together quickly after federal officials announced money would be available for shovel-ready projects. In order to put everything together quickly, MnDOT used what project planners call a “design-build” method of finding contractors to do the work.

The design-build contracting process is different from the way most state projects are bid out. Instead of completely designing a project then looking for the lowest bid from contractors, MnDOT and the City of St. Peter provided a preliminary design and spending limits to potential contractors.

It was up to the contractors to propose a plan to get the job done within the funding constraints. The process made the design process quicker and is also going to shorten construction time, Harff said.

“We had a concept in January and we have construction beginning in July,” he said. “That’s pretty neat. Because it’s being funded through federal stimulus dollars, we needed something we could deliver quickly to get the money.”

There have been about 10 design-build construction bids awarded in Minnesota, the most well known being the project that replaced the I-35W bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis, said Kevin Anderson, deputy project manager. He also worked on the bridge project.

The bridge project was challenging because it was a massive project that had to be finished quickly, Anderson said. The St. Peter project is challenging for different reasons.

One challenge is the project is in the heart of a historic district, said Matt Rottermond, the project manager. That means there are state-imposed guidelines about what can be done, such as limits on vibrations around the historic buildings downtown.

There were also design requirements.

“They want to make sure it still looks like a historic district when we’re done,” Rottermond said.

Another challenge was making the detour as easy as possible for travelers without taking traffic away from downtown businesses.

Northbound traffic will be detoured to Front Street, which is one block to the east of the highway. Southbound traffic will be detoured four blocks west to Washington Avenue. The detours will begin and end at Jefferson Avenue to the south and Broadway Avenue to the north.

Semi drivers will face a much longer detour. Northbound trucks will follow a detour around St. Peter that will take them east on Highway 99, north on Nicollet County Road 40, east on Nicollet County Road 15, then further east and back to Highway 169 on Highway 22.

Southbound traffic will take the same route in opposite directions.

The truck detour will eliminate about 10 percent of Highway 169’s traffic from the downtown detour and keep semis from traveling through residential areas, Anderson said.

“We wanted a balance between downtown businesses, traffic and residents,” he said.

Business owners are concerned the four- or five-month project will keep customers from shopping downtown. Judy Scholl, a St. Peter resident who said she attended the open house because there was a lot to learn about the project, said she won’t be kept from her regular visits downtown.

“But I don’t think we can imagine yet what it’s really going to be like,” she added.

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