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Minnesota DOT Project Wins Regional America’s Transportation Award

by: Jessica Hoover
Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction
Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction
Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction
Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction
Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction
Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction
Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction
Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction
A Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) project won a regional award in the 2022 America’s Transportation Awards competition, sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The competition recognizes state DOTs for making a difference in their community, with each project falling into one of three categories: Operations Excellence, Best Use of Technology & Innovation, and Quality of Life/Community Development.

“State DOTs are overwhelmingly focused on innovative solutions to address the transportation issues of today and tomorrow, meeting challenges involving climate change, equity, resiliency, and safety,” said Jim Tymon, Executive Director of AASHTO. “The America’s Transportation Awards program shows just how they’re doing that. Whether on foot, in a vehicle, on two wheels, or by rail or transit, state DOTs are continuing to advance a safe, multimodal transportation system.”

Eighteen projects in the Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials (MAASTO) region were nominated by eight states for this year’s competition. The following project in the Western Builder area was a winner of the regional America’s Transportation Awards.

Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction (Quality of Life/Community Development, Small Category)
This project won in the Quality of Life/Community Development category, which honors projects that better connect people to businesses, jobs, health care facilities, and recreational activities while encouraging a mix of transportation modes. Trunk Highway 61 provides the only regional access for goods and services for much of the Grand Marais area, so when the pavement began deteriorating along the corridor, this prompted MnDOT and the Grand Marais community to take action.

The $19.2-million Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction project improved pedestrian mobility and safety, promoted community health, and supported tourism-related businesses along the corridor. The project 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. The Grand Marais community also benefits from new places to gather and rest, improved green space and lighting, spaces for art displays, and stormwater improvements.

Community partners and city leadership were highly involved throughout the project development and construction process, creating public awareness and support for the project and advocating for the community’s needs and vision.

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“The Grand Marais project is a great example of how a community can influence a state project,” said Michael Kalnbach, Assistant District Engineer and Project Manager for the Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction project. “While it is MnDOT’s goal to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety in all of our communities, it was because of the Grand Marais community’s vision and support that MnDOT was able to construct a beautiful project the community can enjoy. The city and community went above and beyond with their involvement in the project when it came to engagement, design, construction, and all other aspects of the project.”

Next Phase of the Competition
The three highest-scoring projects from each regional America’s Transportation Awards competition (a total of 12 projects) will continue on to compete for the national Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award. Online voting for the People’s Choice Award has begun, and the 12 finalists were announced this month. The 12 finalists are as follows:
  • Caltrans: 360 Tours Program
  • Illinois DOT and Iowa DOT: The Memorial Bridge, Interstate 74 Mississippi River Crossing Project
  • All MAASTO States (nominated by Iowa DOT): Emergency Divisible Load Management Project
  • Minnesota DOT: Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction Project
  • New Jersey DOT: Route 495, Route 1&9/Paterson Plank Road Bridge Project
  • New York DOT: State Route 5S and North Genesee Street Multi-Modal Safety and Connections Enhancements Project
  • Pennsylvania DOT: I-579 Urban Open Space Cap Project
  • South Carolina DOT: U.S. 21 over Harbor River Bridge Replacement Project
  • Tennessee DOT: Hernando de Soto Bridge Emergency Repairs Project
  • Texas DOT: U.S. 281 North Expansion, Segment 1 Project
  • Virginia DOT: Chatham Bridge Rehabilitation and Share Use Path Project
  • Washington State DOT: Active Transportation Plan 2020 and Beyond Project

In October, AASHTO will reveal the winners for the Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award at its 2022 Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida.

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