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Rock delays push Fourth Street work into 2018

Joe Martin, laborer, watches as Kenny Whitehorse uses a small excavator to remove dirt and a large boulder while excavating a gas main at the intersection of Fourth Street and 21st Avenue East Wednesday afternoon. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Joe Martin (right), laborer, gives a hand signal to excavator operator Dennis Murphy to lower the tamper into a hole in Fourth Street at 21st Avenue East Wednesday afternoon. The two worked to backfill a water main; Martin used the tamper to compact the soil. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Underground knobs of rock have been so prominent in the reconstruction of East Fourth Street in Duluth that the three-year project will bleed into a fourth season in 2018.

"It's (wet) weather and a lot of rock," St. Louis County project engineer Steve Krasaway said of the sources of the delay. "We drilled hundreds of holes in the planning phase and we still missed little knobs of rock that every time we find is a delay."

The final portion of construction between 23rd Avenue East and Wallace Avenue is the affected area. Residents along the route should have received a letter from the county on Wednesday explaining the situation, and calling it "a disappointment" to have to share such news.

The 2-mile, $12 million reconstruction project was expected to be completed this fall. The project was a joint county and city of Duluth project, with the county reconstructing the roadway and city replacing water and sewer lines while also installing a new gas line.

Krasaway explained that it's the new gas line that's been the source of much of the delays. While water and sewer are being replaced in existing trenches, the new 12-inch gas line that will feed the University of Minnesota Duluth and the eastern part of the city is a new utility.

"We're adding a brand-new, large-distribution gas main in a new trench and that's caused the most blasting," Krasaway said. Every time a new knob of rock is encountered more blasting is required. The controlled and muffled blasts occur under cover of dirt and used tires. But before each blast, a precondition survey needs to be done for properties adjacent to the blasts. Even tiny spots of rock have added time and caused delays. Added work has also raised the cost of the project by about $500,000, Krasaway said.

"We've done a lot more blasting than anticipated," he said.

Krasaway said crews will likely work into November on the final portion of road and come back in spring to complete the job.

In the letter to residents, Krasaway explained that underground construction will be completed this year, and a first layer of pavement applied to the roadway. But curb and gutter and sidewalk work won't come until next spring. Temporary curbs and sidewalks will be placed and work will finish no later than July 2018, the letter said.

Krasaway said the final stretch of construction is also the most residential area along the route. He empathized with those who had been eager to see the work completed this year.

"They've been anxiously awaiting the work," Krasaway said. "The good news is that it will be a fairly short window — the last part of this year and early next spring we'll be out there."