MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a popular stop that more than a million Minnesotans make on their way to cabin country each year. But a remodel has closed the Goose Creek Rest Stop along I-35 for the last two years.
WCCO investigated the state’s most expensive rest area and the construction delays, raising eyebrows at the capitol.
Jodie Ice’s 80-mile work commute from Sandstone to Minneapolis a few times a week relied on a certain stop mid-ride.
“I have absolutely no idea what to make of it,” Ice said. “It is very frustrating for someone like me.”
Bu, Ice’s travels have taken her elsewhere as she waits for the barriers around this rest area to be removed.
“I’m very curious as to what they could possibly be doing in there that could be taking so long,” she said.
For two years, the Goose Creek rest stop along Interstate 35 near North Branch has been off limits. Original plans had it opening seven months ago. Project delays and an eye-popping $7.2 million price tag have some lawmakers asking questions.
Construction of a circular building made of Brazilian Ipe wood and curved glass were a part of the blueprints, dubbed as durable and more energy-efficient.
“This is really a boondoggle,” Rep. Ann Neu said. “It just seemed like there were some extravagancies that were unnecessary.”
Neu is one of three Republican state representatives to lay out concerns to the Minnesota Department of Transportation last year in an open letter, pointing out that the pot of money used for the project are trunk highway tax dollars.
“Those are dollars that very specifically pay for our roads and bridges,” she said.
So far, Neu feels that the state hasn’t provided any good answers.
“We want to know that those dollars are being spent responsibly and I’m just not convinced that that’s the case with this situation,” she said.
MnDOT’s director of communications, Kevin Gutknecht, admits Goose Creek cost much more than your typical rest stop renovation. But he says it’s simply because the work is much more extensive.
“Rest areas are a very important safety feature for motorists like I said we’ve had millions literally millions of visitors go to our rest area. It’s good when you’re out driving to be able to stop and rest,” Gutknecht said.
A new retaining wall, parking area, and storm and sanitary sewer system replacement all add up, along with materials that need little maintenance. It’s been 50 years since the last face-lift at Goose Creek.
As for why it’s taking so long, MnDOT points the finger at the contractor for failing to meet the Sept. 30 deadline.
“We are not pleased with this,” Gutknecht said.
The president of Sheehy Construction told us his company wouldn’t comment on the delay. MnDOT says Sheehy pays a $900 penalty each day it goes over deadline.
“We’re probably going to be opening it up pretty soon,” Gutknecht added.
It’s on track now, the state believes, for an end of the month or early June opening, a day that can’t come soon enough for drivers like Jodie Ice.
“I don’t even know what to expect at this point what it will look like,” Ice said.
MnDOT says it usually renovates one of the state’s 67 rest areas every other year depending on the age and condition. The agency spends about $5 million a year on rest stop renovations.
MnDOT Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher told WCCO’s Liz Collin that she has asked for a full review of the project, which went into motion before she was commissioner:
To ensure I have a full understanding of the facts and decisions, and to prevent any future cost escalations, I have asked for a full review of the Goose Creek project and engineering challenges associated with it. This was an extensive renovation that was delayed partially due to weather conditions, but MnDOT is pleased that final work is now being done and it will be open to the public very soon.