Road construction: Minnesota’s other season underway

Comparisons drawn between highway repair and line maintenance

KALWALA TOWNSHIP, Minn. — Road construction season is in high gear throughout northeastern Minnesota following a testier than normal winter and shortened spring. Likewise, line maintenance is also underway as the comfortable summer season steams ahead. Just as detours can frustrating to travelers, power outages can yield the same-type-result for members. Underlying each is the need for maintenance, keeping the system healthy and improving reliability for consumers.

The Highway 73 example

Members in the southern part of the service area may remember a major travel disruption last summer when the main artery, Highway 73, from Cromwell south to Kettle River was severed for months during bridge repair. The long, winding detour was more than inconvenient for travelers. No one knew this better than LCP members Brian and Pauly Granholm, who live just north of the bridge.

“It took 15 minutes to get from here to there,” said Pauly, as she pointed to her daughter’s house just across the river. That quarter mile distance was replaced with 10 miles of detour on dirt roads.

The degree of frustration was wide-ranging. The Granholms made the most of it, but their experience with the numerous commuters who tried to navigate the detour was surprising. “We had to pull more than one person from the ditch,” Pauly said. “It was crazy,” she added, “most people were mad” as motorists moved signs, drove through their yard, and were just plain rude to them because of the repair work.

The bottom line was that the closure was necessary. “The rails on the bridge were all rotted off,” explained Brian. “I think that bridge was built like in 1939, something like that they said. It was the original rails on the bridge.”

Power quality comparison

Just like old bridges, some cooperative electric utility equipment has been around for many years. That’s why the Lake Country Power work plan includes replacing over 70 miles of line per year.

The co-op makes every effort to be proactive to try to avoid situations that cause major inconveniences. New line, new poles, meters, transformers, and right-of-way clearing are common maintenance projects. And, like road construction, at times this takes time, money, patience, and understanding.

But, unlike road work, most members never even know line maintenance is happening. That’s because the work is largely unseen, and electric service is rarely affected due to equipment repair and replacement.

“Very seldom do we have a power outage,” says Brian. “A few years ago they changed a bunch of the lines here and they upgraded the system. I think that has a lot to do with it.”

Though completely different animals, a comparison can be drawn between Minnesota’s road construction season and the maintenance of LCP’s electric system. Neither are fun, inexpensive, or convenient, but both are necessary to the health of the infrastructure we all rely upon every day.

Making it better

Sometimes inconveniences are imperative for improvement — on the road and on the lines.

"It's a funny world out there,” adds Brian. “There's people that just do not understand that to make this road better they had to shut it down. They were upset about that, but its reality.”

Roads get us where we are going, power gets us comfort where we live. Without maintenance, the system will fail — whether it’s on the highways or in the electric veins of a home.

“So yeah, you don't even think about the road,” he said. “Same as you don't think about your power turning on or not.”

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