Contributed graphic
Minnesota Department of Transportation provided a graphic explaining where the river crossings are in the road work area.

By Barbie Porter


Construction season is inching closer and soon detour signs will go up near Frazee. As soon as weather allows, work on the Otter Tail River bridge will begin.

For several years, Minnesota Department of Transportation has been planning the State Highway 87 project in two phases. The first phase is estimated to cost about $20 million and is set to be done this year.  The second phase is estimated to cost $5 million and tackles the portion in city limits in 2022.

The  scope of the phase one project stretches from North River Drive in Frazee to the county lines of Wadena and Becker, which is a few miles shy of Menahga. In addition to reconstructing the road, river crossings will also be replaced. 

Thomas Pace, district four project manager, said the river crossing in Frazee is constructed of a triple box culvert. He said the life expectancy of the culvert was nearing, but the main reason for replacing the structure came about because of the shoulder widening part of the project. MnDOT reviewed different options and decided to install a bridge, instead of putting in a new culvert to accommodate for the expanded shoulder. 

“A bridge will offer a lot of improvements environmentally,” Pace said, noting the passage for fish will be made easier as well as for canoes.  

When the culvert is removed, that means there will be major detours, as there is no option to allow for even single lane traffic at that point.

The detours could be long, depending on where people live. We ask people to be patient and do not drive around the signs.

– Thomas Pace about the potential detour as part of the Highway 87 project

The end result of the temporary inconvenience will offer travelers a smooth, long lasting road surface that provides wider shoulders from Frazee to Evergreen, as well as improved sight lines.  

Technically, work on the State Highway 87 summer project has already started. During the winter months, trees have been clear cut and vegetation removed from ditches on both sides of the road. The clearing extended out 65 feet from the center line.

Pace said the warmer than average winter allowed the work to get underway after Thanksgiving and wrap up before Christmas. 

“By the end of the December all of it was removed,” he said. “It went well.”

Of the trees removed, some was given to adjacent landowners for firewood, and some was ground into mulch. Pace said the wood chips will be used on the Highway 87 project for erosion control.  

The clearing stage is a preparation for expanding the shoulder width and regraded ditches for a smoother, safer slope should a vehicle leave the roadway. This part of the project will be done from Frazee to Evergreen, or about 14 miles.

State Highway 87 is a busy thoroughfare that accommodates vehicles for transport, passengers and horse-drawn carriages from the Amish communities nearby. The road has also been considered for a connection point to the Heartland Trail, should the trail connection from Park Rapids to Frazee ever come to fruition. The road’s shoulder expansion would accommodate all modes of transportation, as well as improve safety for those exiting the roadway or merging onto it.

From Evergreen to Menahga, Pace said  the road will be removed and reclaimed. The shoulders of the road will be similar to the current roadway.

The completion target date for phase one is the end of summer. However, Pace said inclement weather may extend work into the fall.

“Ideally, we will have the work done before school starts,” he said.