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Superior Street countdown: 3-year reconstruction project to begin soon

Weather permitting, work will begin on downtown Duluth's main drag — Superior Street — come April 16.

The road will take three years to complete at an anticipated cost of $31.5 million. Work this summer will focus on the segment between Seventh Avenue West and Third Avenue West. Next year, the project will jump to the other end of Superior Street, between Lake Avenue and Fourth Avenue East. And in 2020, the final year of construction, the project will target a segment of Superior Street between Third Avenue West and Lake Avenue.

The project will replace the brick paving stones that now comprise much of the downtown's streets and sidewalks with concrete shaded to differentiate motorized traffic lanes from areas designated for pedestrian use.

Some of the bricks have deteriorated and are beyond reuse, but Pakou Ly, a communications officer for the city of Duluth, said the city plans to pick out a couple thousand bricks that remain in decent shape and offer them for public purchase.

Representatives of the city of Duluth, the Greater Downtown Council and the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce met with members of the local business community Wednesday morning at Valentini's to bring them up to speed on the project.

While on-street parking will not be available on the section of Superior Street that's being reconstructed, Kristi Stokes, president and CEO of the Greater Downtown Council, said that seven local ramps will offer up to one hour of free parking.

"That is one way to really encourage people to get into those ramps and utilize them, even for short visits, because there will not be on-street parking within the project zone. There will be parking on the avenues and on the rest of Superior Street and First Street — all of that will still be accessible for parking," she said.

Stokes said signs will be installed directing people to nearby ramps. Additional signs are also in the works for Duluth's skywalk system, to help visitors navigate their way to downtown businesses during construction.

Project coordinators said they will do their best to maintain sidewalk access to downtown businesses, but there will be times when that, too, will be impossible, due to the scope of the project.

The entire street, including aged utilities, will be dug up and replaced.

Despite the disruption, Stokes said the downtown will continue to host traditional events, including Sidewalk Days and Grandma's Marathon.

As runners approach the finish line at Grandma's Marathon this summer, however, they will be detoured off of Superior Street at Fourth Avenue East and down onto Michigan Street.

"We'll still have all the events we've always had, they just might look a little different," Stokes said.

Stokes was asked about the type of lighting that will be installed on Superior Street, and she said those street lamps will be "dark-sky compliant" with a "warm glow."

In response to noise concerns, Chauncey Bangs, a senior engineering specialist for the city of Duluth, said workers will do their best to minimize the disruption. He said the hours of work on the project generally will be limited to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. However, Bangs said some overnight work will be required to install interim utility services.

Stokes stressed the importance of supporting downtown businesses during construction. She said the Council aims to launch a "Love Downtown Duluth" campaign.

"We're encouraging people to show their love in many different ways, especially with their loyalty to downtown businesses," she said.

The contractor for the project, Northland Constructors, plans to hold weekly construction meetings to provide progress reports and respond to neighbors' concerns.

Online construction updates also will be available at superiorstreet.org throughout the summer.

WHAT: Meeting to discuss Superior Street project with representatives of the city of Duluth, the Greater Downtown Council and Northland Constructors

WHEN: 8 to 9:30 a.m. Thursday, April 5

WHERE: Radisson Hotel, Great Hall, 505 W. Superior St.