Summer is always a busy time for tourists and locals along the North Shore.  And with a combination of events coming next week, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has issued a traffic advisory to alert drivers to the potential for congestion, delays, and more.

Specifically, MNDOT has focused on August 4 through August 7 as having the potential to cause problems for both tourists and locals who need to get through the area.  They're forecasting "significant congestion" along Highway 61, the Two Harbors area, Grand Marais, and the entire North Shore Drive.

The causes have to do with two large festivals occurring during those dates, combined with the ongoing, existing summer road construction work zones.

The Festival of Sail will happen in Two Harbors and organizers are anticipating a large crowd.  This is the first year that the event will take place in Two Harbors, after having previously been hosted in Duluth.  While it was in Duluth, the event drew thousands of people each day.  Organizers have already capped daily attendance numbers for the event in Two Harbors, due to the smaller-scale of infrastructure in the considerably smaller community.

In addition, the Grand Marais Fisherman's Picnic will be held just a little further up the highway.  This event also draws a good crowd.

Along with the two large events going on between August 4 and August 7, there are a large number of road construction projects in the area.  Four of these are significantly large, and will impact drivers who are traveling up the North Shore during those dates:

  • I-35 single lane, head-to-head traffic near Barnum:  For travelers who aren't from the immediate area, this is the first project that they will encounter.  MNDOT crews are  right in the middle of the overlay work that has also closed some ramps and caused a detour.  This project won't be finished until October, 2022.
  • Blatnik Bridge maintenance work:  This summer-long road project has single-lane closures on both sides (northbound and southbound) of the bridge, as crews work to extend the life of the bridge that is scheduled for replacement within the next ten years. This particular work is expected to be complete in September, 2022.
  • Twin Ports Interchange (Can of Worms):  Probably the largest road construction project that North Shore drivers will encounter on their way up the shore; it's also perhaps the largest work zone of its kind in the state. MNDOT is totally-rebuilding the connections where Highway 53, the Blatnik Bridge (from Wisconsin), and I-35 intersect. Current cost estimates are $343 million - but that is a fluid number.  Work on the Twin Ports Interchange won't be complete until the end of the 2024 summer road construction season.
  • Silver Creek and Stewart River Bridges: MNDOT is working to replace the two existing bridge structures along Highway 61, north of Two Harbors. The Silver Creek Bridge is located just to the south of  the Silver Creek Tunnel; the historic Stewart River Bridge is located near Betty's Pies.  Work began in 2021 and won't be complete until 2023.

In general, MNDOT reminds drivers to plan ahead, slow down, have patience, and never drive distracted - or, under the influence of alcohol.  For real time traffic data as well as complete details about each of these summer road construction projects, visit MNDOT's website.

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