Slick ice glazed Summerhill Drive on Monday morning. Wind-whipped snow had formed broad, inch-thick swaths over khaki-tinted lawns. The powder had fallen after weeks of character-building, sub-zero temperatures. Winter, it seemed, still had a claim on Eden Prairie.
But a large, blaze-orange road sign mysteriously appeared on Summerhill’s rolled concrete curbing: “ROAD WORK AHEAD.” I smiled into the day’s grayness. Roadwork signs are as trusted as the first robins of spring, signaling that pothole-patching season had arrived. Roadwork signs and cones are the ornaments of a Minnesota spring.
The last time street crews worked on sleepy Summerhill Drive was in June. Giant machines milled down the tired-looking blacktop. Huge trucks carried it away for recycling. Other trucks arrived with fresh, hot asphalt, which was layered in by larger, slow-moving machines and crewmen with shovels, rakes, and brooms. Their “NO PARKING” sign had been planted just a few feet from the curb where this week’s sign stands.
This dreary Monday was only 11 days away from nearly identical bulletins ginned out by every news organization, talk show and podcast in America. They would report on a familiar Feb. 2 ritual: top-hatted and bearded small-town celebrities in Pennsylvania announcing if a weather-forecasting groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil had seen its shadow.
Traffic blinkers and a few traffic cones had also appeared where Summerhill meets Woodland Drive, evidence that something was about to happen. Perhaps road repair was becoming a year-long Minnesota thing.
— That something, however, would not be pothole patching. Eden Prairie city streets are famous for not incubating potholes. I had attempted to photograph EP potholes last March for an EPLN story. I couldn’t find any. —
I kept checking outside for work crews, but none showed up. However, along Woodland, I did notice scores of tiny colored flags spiked into thawing ground on stiff wires.
I contacted Robert Ellis, director of the city’s Public Works Department, with a few questions. Ellis has been the city’s chief overseer of Southwest Light Rail construction. Minnesota’s most expensive public works project is also Eden Prairie’s biggest construction project. Back in 2020, Ellis counted 28 construction cranes in his town. They were guarded by countless traffic cones and lane closure and detour signs.
Ellis had answers for the blinkers and the little flags at Woodland and Summerhill. They are for Xcel Energy’s work to repair an electrical line, not for road work or the installation of telecommunication cable. The jokey myth that Minnesotans have just two seasons — winter and road repair — still holds.
Ellis explained that a small amount of utility work has been occurring this week, but it is almost exclusively for repairing existing gas, electric, or telecommunication lines. The city’s standing policy does not permit any winter work unless it is critical to keeping systems operating.
EPLN’s Jim Bayer reported in November that Intrepid Fiber Networks is installing high-speed fiber optic cable in Eden Prairie over the next two to three years. Ellis said that Intrepid’s contractors completed their seasonal work prior to the December holiday. They plan to start up again come spring when asphalt and concrete plants reopen. Construction contractors for any installation or repair jobs near or under Eden Prairie streets and sidewalks are required to restore damaged areas.
Ellis says that there may be requests to allow small lengths of fiber cable installation during the current, unseasonably mild weather. But this would only be permitted if the work is outside of a roadway, does not require any street repairs, and if weather forecasters predict a continuation of warm weather and low ground frost. “It’s too soon to tell if that will happen,” said Ellis, “and if it does, this would be the first time in recent memory.” He did not mention groundhogs.
The National Weather Service forecast for Eden Prairie predicts daily high temperatures in the 40s for the next week
Editor’s note: Writer Jeff Strate is a founding member of EPLN’s Board of Directors.
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