TREGO– The landscape is being reshaped in Trego as buildings are razed and ground is cleared to prepare for a two-year, $17.7 million construction project that will add an interchange and frontage roads to Hwy. 53 to try to stem the high number of crashes there.

The work is expected to be completed in November, meaning drivers, visitors, and the area’s businesses will maneuver through two full construction seasons. The DOT is awaiting the construction timeline from the contractor.

“Crashes that have occurred along the highway in the Trego area have resulted in a crash rate that exceeds the state average for similar type facilities,” the Department of Transportation (DOT) said. “In addition, seasonal peaks in traffic due to the highly recreational nature of the region have resulted in significant traffic delays at the US 53/US 63 at-grade intersection for westbound US 63 traffic wanting to enter onto US 53.”

During the reconstruction of Hwy. 53 between Hwy. 63 and Mackey Road, Hwy. 63 will be rerouted to follow the Wild River State Trail and a grade-seperated intersection will be built that connects Hwy. 53 with the re-aligned Hwy. 63. A frontage road will be added from Mackey Road to Cty. Hwy. E, and turn lanes off of Hwy. 53 will be constructed at the intersections of Mackey, O’Brien, and Ross roads.

Minor travel impacts are expected in the near term, according to Beth Cunningham, Department of Transportation (DOT) project manager based out of Spooner, and later the divided highway will narrow for a time into single north- and southbound lanes with the speed reduced to 55 mph.

Temporary signal lights timed for speed and traffic volume will be installed at the Cty. Hwy. E/Oak Hill Road intersection and at Hwy. 63. Some daytime road closures may be needed for their installation, and they should become operational this spring or early summer.

Right of way is being marked, fencing has been removed and silt fences put in place, an archeological study has been done, tree stumps are grubbed, and utilities are being moved. Message signs are in place for updating drivers as the project progresses, and grading is expected to begin the week of April 19.

The DOT bought 40 properties for the project, a process that began in October 2019 and was finished this past January.

“It’s been a long time,” Cunningham said.

Three businesses that were in a pole shed near the gas station had to relocate since the building is where a ramp to the new interchange will be. Two apartments also were removed.

Some of the materials for the project will be sourced locally, including gravel from along Cty. Hwy. A and asphalt from Amery.

The DOT had planned to have a public meeting this spring to outline the project and its schedule, but due to the pandemic, that has been scrapped. Instead, the DOT will get the word out through press releases, fact sheets at area businesses and town hall, and on the website Cunningham said she is keeping the Spooner Area Chamber of Commerce and Washburn County Tourism Association informed.

Sometimes construction zones can be confusing to traverse, but Cunningham expects the route through to be clear.

“I don’t see a lot of confusion once we get up and running,” she said.

Cunningham reminds drivers to be cautious and pay close attention in the construction zone.

“I can’t stress that enough,” she said. The construction workers want to go home, too.

(Copyright © 2021 APG Media)

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