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Timing, lack of detours clog South University

Think of it as a little taste of life in the big city. But it's the kind of taste that may inspire gagging: rush hour. Installation of a new south side relief storm sewer combined with the first day of school caused at least a 40-minute traff...

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Think of it as a little taste of life in the big city.

But it's the kind of taste that may inspire gagging: rush hour.

Installation of a new south side relief storm sewer combined with the first day of school caused at least a 40-minute traffic tie-up Monday morning on South University Drive.

The work closed the intersection of 18th Avenue and University.

Southbound traffic on University was backed up as far as 14th Avenue South, while northbound traffic was stalled to beyond Oak Manor Drive.

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The work caused the biggest headaches for Nativity School parents who were dropping kids off before heading for work.

Some still were a little shell-shocked by midafternoon, when they returned to pick up their kids.

"Oh my God," said Katrina Kalo, who brought her two children in from West Fargo.

"Nothing is comparable to what it was like."

"You couldn't prepare for it," said Kathy Ducey of south Fargo. "Even if you were warned about it, there were only two ways to get in."

Rhonda Freeberg of south Fargo was evidence of that. Her husband had told her not to take University, so she went up Fifth Street. Even with the detour, the construction added 35 minutes to her trip to work, she said.

Mercedes Hanson of West Fargo said traffic was bumper-to-bumper in both directions coming in to the school. "Once I got off the interstate, I probably sat through that light twice," she said -- and that was only one part of the jam.

Fargo Traffic Engineer Rick Lane said a lack of alternatives combined with bad timing conspired to snarl traffic.

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"Unfortunately, there aren't any additional roadways between 18th and Interstate 94 to use as alternate routes," Lane said. "It's an ugly situation. And our timing couldn't have been worse."

There was some discussion about putting the project on hold Monday. But ultimately City Engineer Mark Bittner, Ulteig Engineers, the project engineers, and Master Construction, the contractor, decided to go ahead with it, Lane said, because Master has only two weeks to get it done under its contract.

"There isn't a real good detour for it because we're so close to the interstate," Lane said.

Engineers are encouraging drivers to use 25th and Fifth streets as alternate routes and signs along the latter have been changed to improve traffic flow, he said.

There is a detour on the south side of 18th Avenue that sends drivers between the Taco Shop and a nearby gas station; that leads drivers to 13½ Street and then to 17th Avenue, which leads back to University.

But people may be taking some more unorthodox detours as well, like through nearby parking lots.

"I imagine there's probably some people that cut through some of that just to avoid some of the congestion," Lane said. "It's not a detour route."

The situation will only get better over the next two weeks if traffic somehow is reduced, said Duane Baumgart, a general superintendent for Master Construction.

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Master is under the gun to finish the project on time despite a lack of workers, he said.

"The work force area is slow right now," with many of the summer's laborers headed back to school, he said. "There's not a lot of people right now who are experienced who are looking for this work."

Monday was very hectic, he said. "The first day there's school, there's always everybody bringing their own kids," he said.

Baumgart said carpooling kids to school could help alleviate the problem.

Or there's that other solution.

Ducey said she plans to "leave very early (today) -- 7:30 instead of a quarter to 8."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541

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