A major reconstruction project will close a portion of Victory Drive this summer, including the intersection with Hoffman Road, even as another busy north-south route — Riverfront Drive — will also be detoured.
But the near-term pain for Mankato drivers, who will also see Highway 22 detoured on the city’s northeast side for a roundabout construction at Augusta Drive, will bring substantial upgrades to Victory Drive and its crash-prone intersection with Hoffman Road.
“This one is obviously very impactful for the city of Mankato and the residents moving through town,” said Blue Earth County Public Works Director Ryan Thilges. “… It’s a highly impactful project but it’s long overdue.”
The disruption this summer will be shorter and less extensive than previously planned but only because it will return in 2025 rather than being compressed into a single construction season.
Blue Earth County has jurisdiction over and ownership of Victory Drive, known as County Road 82 outside of city limits. But the $6.5 million reconstruction project is a joint effort with the city of Mankato, which has agreed to pay just over $1 million for work at intersections with city streets, along with half of the cost of signal lights, sidewalks and trails.
Because the city is facing major construction bills for two other projects — the reconstruction of Riverfront Drive, which will be rebuilt between Main Street and Third Avenue in 2024, and the Veterans Memorial Bridge in 2026 — city leaders asked the county to delay half of the Victory Drive work until 2025.
The plan is to focus this year’s construction on the segment from just south of Hoffman Road to just south of Main Street. In 2025, the northern segment will be reconstructed from north of Marwood St. (near Victory Bowl) through Fair Street.
Along with giving the city some financial relief, a two-year project has other advantages, Thilges said. A single-year project would have stretched from spring through late fall, making it impossible to avoid impacting Minnesota State University and East High School when they are in session.
Splitting it into two bites means each year’s construction can possibly be completed in two or three months.
“Our objective would be to start it after school’s out and for sure to get it done before school starts in the fall,” Thilges said, mentioning MSU’s student move-in day as a likely goal for reopening.
Doing the northern segment in 2025 also means the Main Street-Victory intersection will remain open to traffic this summer, which will preserve a route for traveling between the downtown portion of the valley and the hilltop when Riverfront Drive is closed just north of Main.
“I think there was considerable concern about the closure of the Main Street intersection in 2024,” Thilges said.
The closure of the Main Street-Victory intersection now won’t occur until 2025 when the new Riverfront Drive will be open to traffic.
The official detour for Victory Drive this summer directs traffic to Highway 22, although unofficial detours will abound, along with challenges in getting customers to businesses like Happy Dan’s and the adjacent strip mall.
“We’re just going to have to be more reactive with a project like this,” Thilges said of the need to adapt based on drivers’ choices once the road is closed.
Once the work is completed, hilltop drivers are likely to be pleased with the result.
“The deteriorating roadway has a very poor ride quality and continues to require heavy maintenance,” according to the county’s long-range transportation plan.
The heavily patched pavement will be completely removed, storm sewers and other underground utilities will be replaced and new concrete driving lanes will be poured.
A raised center median between northbound and southbound lanes on Victory — a feature that already exists closer to Madison Avenue — will be extended to the south. Roadside trails will be reconstructed and widened.
And major improvements are coming to the dangerous and sometimes congested Hoffman-Victory intersection, which is particularly busy when classes at East High wrap up on weekday afternoons. The redesign will follow the recommendations of an intersection study completed five years ago by engineering firm SRF Consulting.
Sixty months of crash data showed 70 collisions at the intersection. While none involved fatal or severe injuries, 27 involved minor injuries and the crash rate was double the statewide average for similar intersections. With traffic on that portion of Victory at 20,000 and projected to grow to 23,000 by 2038, SRF was predicting excessive delays for drivers during peak traffic times.
The firm concluded that a roundabout would be most effective in reducing severe crashes but that an expanded signalized intersection would perform better in reducing delays. It would also cost half as much as a roundabout and require only about a third as much right-of-way acquisition from adjoining properties.
The new intersection will have one lane added to all four quadrants of the intersection, allowing for a dedicated right-turn lane and a dedicated left-turn lane in every direction. Victory will have a pair of lanes dedicated to both southbound and northbound through-traffic, and Hoffman will have a single lane dedicated to through-traffic heading east and west.
The intersections at Main and Fair will not be redesigned during the 2025 portion of the project, although the semaphores — like those at Hoffman — will be replaced with modern signal systems.
A feasibility study completed for the Victory Drive reconstruction found that crashes were an issue at Main Street but that bad driving rather than the intersection itself was a major culprit.
“After reviewing the crash reports in detail, it was determined that almost 40% of the crashes occurred after a vehicle ran a red light,” according to the study, which was also conducted by SRF.
The upcoming two-year project follows a $3.2 million upgrade in 2021 of the segment of Victory Drive from Stadium Road to just south of Hoffman Road.