Improving Connections in Grand Marais

City roads near lakeshore

Minnesota Highway 61 (TH 61) serves as a vital link for businesses, industry, and tourism along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Among the largest and most-visited communities along its route is Grand Marais, a harbor town and the start of the famed Gunflint Trail.

In 2017, the Minnesota Department of Transportation hired LHB to rehabilitate and reconstruct an 11.3-mile section of TH 61 that passes through the heart of Grand Marais. The project, totaling $19.2 million, addressed various MnDOT requirements as well as key upgrades identified as community priorities. Work included narrowing the roadway, building better biking and pedestrian facilities along each side of the roadway, and creating an environment where highway traffic would slow down so crossing the roadway would be safer.

“With lack of pedestrian amenities and various informal accesses to local businesses, driving into Grand Marais on TH 61 was somewhat confusing,” LHB senior project manager Matt Settergren says. “Drivers had to always be on the lookout for other vehicles entering the highway from accesses that weren’t always the most visible. Pedestrians looking to cross the highway had to cross longer distances and were set further back from the driving lanes. It was a challenging environment.”

A multidisciplinary approach

The project drew on multiple services provided by LHB’s public works unit. Specialists in accessibility, utilities, structural engineering, lighting design, community engagement, drainage, stormwater, and more contributed to the design. “It was definitely an all-hands-on-deck effort,” Settergren says.

Aspects of the project included:

Fall River Culvert Improvements
West of Grand Marais, TH 61 passes over the Fall River via a box culvert. To improve overall flow, the existing culvert was replaced, a process that required a temporary stream diversion plan and a riprap revetment plan to mitigate construction impacts. Bedrock was removed to make way for the diversion and then grouted back into place before the river was returned to its original course.

Urban Reconstruct
Approximately eight blocks of TH 61 on Grand Marais’s west side were reconstructed in a manner that slightly reduced the roadway width while maintaining on-street parking, improving pedestrian safety, and optimizing traffic flow. A 244-foot-long cast-in-place retaining wall was constructed between the highway and a municipal campground to protect the environment outside of MnDOT’s right-of-way.

LHB worked with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, its design consultants, and MnDOT to replace contaminated soils located underneath the highway in Grand Marais.

City Utilities

The project included new sanitary sewer and water service connections for the City of Grand Marais within and underneath TH 61. Bedrock close to the surface made it particularly challenging to install the utilities to their required depth, but the final design successfully overcame these challenges.

Landscape Improvements

Boulevard plantings, pedestrian scale lighting, and such landscape amenities as benches, planters, kiosks, art pedestals, and bike racks were an integral part of the project’s aesthetic improvements. Curb bump-outs and colored concrete now give drivers a clear sense of where city streets and pedestrian crossings intersect the highway.

The result of all these changes is an attractive roadside environment that includes places to gather, rest, and recreate. “You just feel better as a driver, walker, or cyclist using the public right of way,” Settergren says. “It’s a much more comfortable gateway into the City of Grand Marais.”

Click here to read about other LHB North Shore projects.

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