The Highway 169 Eagles Nest Project is finally getting underway. The $16 million project has been almost two decades in the making. Friday, MnDot and other state officials gathered to celebrate reaching this milestone.

"After 19 years since the task force was first assembled, and after a decade after Congressman Oberstar secured funding for the project, we are finally ready to get started," said Senator, Amy Klobuchar, at Thursday's groundbreaking.

For years, a nearly six-mile stretch on Highway 169 between Ely and Tower has been labeled as a danger.

"We've got so many accidents that have happened on this road, so many people we've lost," said Klobuchar.

"The winter time is really tough. Some days it's best to take (Highway) 21 and go through Babbitt because of the conditions of the road," said Chuck Novak, Mayor of Ely.

Thursday marked the start of the project that many have worked on for years with hopes to eliminate those concerns. The project includes 5.7 miles of highway that will be completely reconstructed in segments that will be realigned, and others widened and resurfaced. 

"The federal government actually came to the table and contributed 13 million. The state contributed 3 million," said Klobuchar.

The end result will be a smoother and safer highway with reduced shaded areas and minimized environmental impacts.

"This is going to help us transportation wise as we try to grow the economy in Ely," said Novak.

"Important benefits are the jobs that go with it, the ease of transportation not only for commercial but for all the others going to and from work," said Representative Rick Nolan.

Excavation and rock testing for the project have already begun. Officials say it's one of many projects moving into the future.

The project is expected to be finished in July 2018. MnDot's website will have updates on delays and alternative routes.