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Highway construction causes small town woes

The city of Birchwood Village would prefer not to be the highway's unofficial detour.

BIRCHWOOD VILLAGE, Minn — UPDATED 10:26 p.m.: Mayor Wingfield said the council voted 3-1 for a modified one way on Birchwood Road where the blocked stretch would be a little shorter, but would still restrict traffic in one direction.

As construction season starts to heat up all over the state, the closure of County Highway 12 in Washington County is heating up discussions in the small city of Birchwood Village.

"Now we just have a rotating whack-a-mole," Mayor Mary Wingfield said. 

What Wingfield is referring to is a stretch of Birchwood Road. With the closure of the highway, came an official detour. The detour takes drivers on Highways 12, 29, 694 and then on Century Avenue.

However, Wingfield says people have favored cutting through the town of around 900 people because it's shorter path.

"That highway takes 12,000 vehicles a day, they've got to go somewhere," she said. "This was the path of least resistance and we're on the receiving end."

Since the detours, Birchwood Road, according to Wingfield, has become unsafe.

"Not only did we have normal traffic, we had commercial trucks, semis tankers, garbage trucks -- plus everybody else," Wingfield said. "It was a de facto highway and people were going highway speeds; they were ignoring the stop signs, passing people who were not going their speed limit."

The city council initially voted last week to have these barriers put up, while being open some hours of the day to account for school traffic.

However, the game of whack-a-mole popped up when it became clear that some people were just moving the barriers open and closed -- whenever they wanted.

"We don't have any law enforcement, and when somebody opens them, they get closed again when sometime decides to close them when they drive by," Wingfield added. "So, it's just random whether they're open and closed now. It's not a good solution; it's a temporary solution. We're meeting tonight so we can figure out something that either, one, take the barricades down; two, we can create a one-way and make it impermissible to come the other direction; or three, we can put something more permanent that's absolutely closed."

With the construction projected for completion by Spring of 2023, Wingfield says she's hopeful the city council will be able to come to a compromise.

"We're a consensus-building council, we work together, we like to strive for -- what's the issue we talk to each other, we look at your perspective, where can we tweak that, can we add this in?" Wingfield said. "Ninety-five percent of the time we reach a consensus, so I'm hopeful."

Washington County's construction project manager said he is hoping to complete the project as quickly as they can.

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