MARQUETTE - The Marquette County Road Commission is set to start new construction projects next week on Marquette County Road 550 that are being funded by Lundin Mining Corp. as part of a larger package totaling $44.4 million in improvements to the company's transportation route for the Eagle Mine.
Lundin will finance improvements to county roads 550, 510 and the Triple A Road, which will serve as a portion of the 60-mile transportation route the company will use to get its nickel and copper from the Eagle Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains to the Humboldt Mill processing center in Humboldt Township.
Production at the mine is scheduled to begin during the second half of 2014.
A bridge over Alder Creek on Marquette County Road 550 has been removed and is being replaced. Traffic is being rerouted over a temporary bridge. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
Overall, work to upgrade the route is moving forward, but not as quickly as planned.
"I would say construction-wise we're a little bit behind, but it's not drastic," road commission Engineer-Manager James Iwanicki said. "I would have liked to have seen a little more pavement on the ground by now."
Iwanicki said the road commission is awaiting approval of state culvert and wetlands permit applications submitted in June and agreements with some property owners.
The road commission held a public hearing in Big Bay Thursday to familiarize the public with new County Road 550 work. Four projects were discussed at the public hearing.
Two of the projects will construct new passing lanes, a third involves blacktop rehabilitation work. The fourth project is a bridge relocation expected to start next spring.
The first passing lane project will build a passing lane in each direction on CR550 between the north and south intersections of County Road KCH, known as Remington Road. The second passing lane project will construct a southbound passing lane between the north and south intersections of County Road HO, known as Eagles Nest Road.
The blacktop rehabilitation project will crush, reshape and repave 3.1 miles of CR550 from Harlow Creek north and will cost $1.7 million.
The bridge relocation project will involve the County Road 550 bridge over the Big Garlic River. The bridge and roadway approaches will be moved about a half-mile to the east. The road commission expects to need right-of-way for the project and acquisition is expected to begin this month.
Iwanicki said the property owner is "on board with the concept." Final design and permits are still needed for the project and are expected to be submitted over the next two to three months.
About 30 people attended the public hearing. Some had questions about how long the work would take, who is funding it and whether potential alternate routes were being considered.
Catherine Parker of Marquette wanted to know whether a full environmental impact statement was being prepared for the work. Iwanicki said no federal funds were involved and therefore that step was not necessary.
Gene Champagne of Big Bay wanted to know if all of the road work was being funded by Lundin.
Iwanicki said the mining company had released funding for all of the CR550 work.
Michael Beck of Marquette wanted to know about the width of the passing lanes and shoulders, concerned about safety for bicyclists and hikers along the North Country Trail, which crosses CR550.
Iwanicki said there will be 12-foot lanes, with a 3-foot paved shoulder and 5-foot gravel shoulder.
One woman thanked the road commission for doing the work near Harlow Creek, a section of road she said hadn't been improved since the 1950s.
Recently, the road commission completed a road repaving project along CR 550 from the Marquette city limit north to the Sugarloaf Mountain parking lot. The project, which began in June, covered roughly three miles and cost $1.2 million. The road surface was crushed, graded and paved over. No road width or alignment changes were made to that section of the road.
Construction on CR 550 will ultimately take place over 22.3 miles from Marquette north toward Big Bay. Over that route, four bridges will be replaced -including the Big Garlic River bridge- and 22 stream crossings will be worked on.
A bridge over Alder Creek has been removed and will be replaced. Traffic is being rerouted over an adjacent temporary bridge. Elsewhere on CR550, culvert and drainage work was being done over the past several days. A new fence has also been erected along part of the roadway, which the road commission previously could not afford to maintain.
The total cost to upgrade CR550 is estimated at $23.6 million.
A Road Upgrade Funding Agreement between the road commission and the mining company - signed in March - estimated road construction over 18.6 miles will cost of $11.2 million; chip seal work over 2.9 miles, will cost $174,000; crack sealing for 0.8 miles, is estimated at $8,000; the four bridge replacements have a total cost projected of $2.4 million and it will cost $5.5 million for the 22 stream crossings.
Construction work on County Road 510 and the Triple A Road is scheduled to begin next year. The total cost to improve those roads is estimated at $20.8 million, according to the agreement. This fall, the road commission hopes to get some tree clearing done, which would help expedite construction next spring.
A public hearing to describe that work is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Powell Township Hall.
"We'll roll that out to the public and see if there's any concerns," Iwanicki said.
The improvements will upgrade the CR510 and the Triple A Road to a paved all-season roadway. The road commission needs to obtain right-of-way for those road projects.
Substantial completion of all the upgrades to CR550, CR510 and the Triple A Road is expected by November 2014.
If the roads were not upgraded, Lundin's trucking operations would be reduced, being subject to seasonal road restrictions.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org