Council approves plan for East Main reconstruction

by Mandy Moran Froemming
Union Editor

Anoka City Council has approved the plans and authorized staff to go out for bids on the 2012 East Main Street project, which will have the main street through downtown under construction into the fall.

A mid-block crosswalk between Second and Third Avenues is being proposed as part of the East Main Street reconstruction. File photo

With basic construction costs estimated at $3.5 million, the project includes a complete reconstruction of the streets and sidewalks between the Rum River Bridge and Fifth Avenue. It will feature the addition of sidewalk bump outs at the intersections to improve pedestrian safety, along with wider sidewalks and narrower driving lanes. Also included is an upgrade and relocation to the city reader board sign to the west side of the Rum River, as well as repairs to the Rum River Bridge.

“This is a big project, it’s had a lot of attention and it has had tremendous planning,” said Mayor Phil Rice, who added it has been honed to pay attention to timing and market influences.

Several years ago, the city proposed reconstructing East Main in 2010, but at the request of local business owners the project was delayed and work was done on West Main Street at that time.

The city council approved the feasibility report on the East Main project back in February 2011. What followed was a series of meetings with the Anoka Business and Landowners Association as well as downtown property owners to gather input on the design.

The next big step will be on March 19 when the council reviews those bids and decides which of the six alternates to include in construction, potentially adding an extra $1 million in improvements to the downtown – bringing project costs to nearly $5 million.

New crosswalk

When the plan was presented to the city council on Jan. 17, the base bid included the addition of a mid-block crosswalk between Second and Third avenues.

While not part of the original plan for East Main, City Engineer and Public Services Director Greg Lee said the concept came out of the meetings held with business owners earlier this year.

Requests had been made for crosswalks at First Avenue and between Second and Third avenues.

Because of the curve in the street and nearby access to a much safer tunnel that runs under main street, the First Avenue crosswalk was not feasible.

But staff, along with the consulting firm Kimley Horn and Associates did work to include the mid-block crossing between Second and Third avenues in the plan. Lee said that block is typically longer than most.

“When that request for a crosswalk came in, given that it is not at a signalized intersection we decided to do everything possibly could to make that crosswalk as safe as possible,” said Lee.

Jaywalking on Main Street is a chronic problem, with drivers often having to stop to accommodate a pedestrian that has decided to cross mid-block.

The result is a plan for a crosswalk that includes plenty of LED lights that will be activated by pedestrians, including lights that can be embedded into the pavement. According to Lee this would be the first crosswalk in the state to have LED pavement lighting.

The plan also includes a concrete median in the center of the roadway to allow a safe landing spot for pedestrians mid-street.

This crosswalk is estimated to cost $72,000.

Anoka attorney and Main Street property owner Jim Neilson criticized the city’s plans to add the crosswalk.

“I don’t think that it’s being put in for a safety reason,” said Neilson. “The safety is going to be created with longer signals and with the dumb drivers watching for people. The problem isn’t getting across, the problem is people driving do not pay any attention. And when that happens you get hit.”

While Neilson disagrees with the crosswalk, he asked the council at the very least to include it as a bid alternate, rather than part of the overall construction package.

Neilson said this would make more sense because upgrades to the city-owned parking lot between Billy’s and Beerbelly’s is a bid alternate on the project.

If these parking lot upgrades are not approved, there is no need for the crosswalk, Neilson told the council.

Mayor Phil Rice said it was important to consider adding a crosswalk between Second and Third Avenues.

“I know that if anyone pays any attention to Main Street we see people crossing the street every 10 minutes… or maybe more frequently than that,” said Rice. “It is a constant problem on Main Street. It’s what people do… and to not acknowledge that and to not address it seems sort of foolish.”

The council did amend the base construction bid package to turn the crosswalk into a bid alternate.

In addition to the crosswalk, Neilson also criticized the sidewalk bump outs that are planned at each of the downtown intersections.

“Bump outs are going to create a problem while turning, bump outs are going to create a problem while parking, bump outs will create a problem going over them and providing for plowing during the winter,” said Neilson.

According to Dan Coyle, project manager from Kimley Horn and Associates, the consulting firm hired to design the East Main reconstruction, tests have been done to make sure large delivery trucks can navigate right turns with the bump outs in place.

In a resolution passed by the the Anoka Business and Landowners Association, the organization included a provision calling on the city to have the snow removed from those bump outs within 24 hours, said Neilson.

Bid alternates

With the crosswalk, there are now six bid alternates included in the project. When bids are reviewed on March 18, the city council members will be able to decide which, if any, of the following improvements they would like to include as part of the construction project:

• crosswalk between Second and Third avenues ($72,000),

• bridge lighting enhancements ($75,000),

• city hall plaza and parking lot improvements ($672,300),

• improvements to parking lot between Billy’s and Beerbelly’s ($346,000),

• Third Avenue transit shelter ($32,000) and

• Fifth Avenue decorative fence ($113,200).

The estimate for the city hall plaza and and parking lot improvements includes $195,000 for the construction of a grand staircase on the south end of city hall, which was originally included in the first phase of the River Front Park project, planned for 2013.

“We’ll be getting bids for those separately and then when this gets presented back to the city council on March 19 the city council can decide if you want to include (the alternates) in the project,” said Lee. “It’s very similar to the process we followed with West Main.”

No assessments

During discussions about other street projects scheduled in Anoka for 2012, concerns were raised at last week’s meeting over the assessments that have not been included in the East Main Project.

Anoka resident Clifford Gribble lives on Eastwood Lane, a road that will be reconstructed as part of the city’s 2012 street renewal project. During the assessment hearing on that project, Gribble questioned why he has to pay an assessment for his street to be reconstructed, when those who own property along East Main Street do not.

“As a residential property owner I do expect to pay my fair share,” said Gribble. “Why is it that the street renewal project going on on East Main this year is being totally paid for without any assessment to the property owners?”

City Manager Tim Cruikshank said traffic counts are the reason the East Main Street project will not include assessments.

“Main Street in our community has average traffic counts of well over 20,000 vehicles per day and sometimes in excess of 26,000,” said Cruikshank. “That is like no other residential street we have in our community.”

He said it could be argued that East Main Street shouldn’t even be a city street, that it acts more like a county road or a state highway.

“We have state highways that have traffic counts that high,” said Cruikshank. “So because of the wear and tear that East Main Street absorbs and really acts as the main corridor to our community getting folks to come and do business in our community they’re really not the same animal.”

Gribble said he felt the businesses on East Main should help to pay for the benefits of having a new street along their storefronts.

“They’re getting better parking, better access, better egress for pedestrians,” said Gribble. “It just doesn’t seem fair. A property owner is a property owner, it doesn’t matter where in the city the property is located.”

Anoka resident Pat Walker agreed with Gribble that the East Main Street project should have included assessments.

“If it gets a lot of traffic it’s because those businesses are doing everything they can do to bring in the traffic,” said Walker.

He said if the downtown business owners had a vested interest in the street project, it would help to keep costs down when it comes time for the city to consider the options included in the project as bid alternates.

“To not buy into the project at all seems to be a bad thing in my mind,” said Walker. “If you get to remodel your entire house and someone else pays the entire bill, what kind of options are you going to chose?”

According to Lee, the question of assessments of a major collector road came up with the city reconstructed West Main in 2010. He explained that according to state statute, the increased value to a property must be equal to or greater than the assessment for improvements.

“For West Main and East Main, simply upgrading the road itself does not bring enough increased value,” said Lee. “For commercial properties, they already get the value of being on a road where there is a high traffic volume. The condition of that road doesn’t really impact their business that much.”

Mayor Rice pointed out that the downtown businesses are not the reason why East Main Street is such a heavily traveled road.

“Traffic counts are not there because our businesses are drawing customers onto Main Street,” said Rice. “There may be hundreds of those trips each day that are caused by the businesses. There might be a thousand or two. But there’s not 29,000 trips caused on our Main Street because of our business district.”

The vote

The design for East Main Street along with the authorization to go out for bids was unanimously approved by the Anoka City Council.

City Manager Tim Cruikshank did address a concern that has been raised over potential conflicts of interest for some members of the city council.

While Councilmembers Jeff Weaver and Mark Freeburg both own property on East Main, according to City Attorney Scott Baumgartner neither have a legal conflict of interest in this matter.

In a written opinion Baumgartner explained that Main Street is a major thoroughfare in the city of Anoka, making it an atypical roadway that requires a different level of maintenance and upkeep compared to a residential street.

“Main Street provides a benefit to all businesses located along and surrounding Main Street, not just to any one single property,” said Baumgartner. “While some council members may derive some small benefit to improvements made to some portions of Main Street fronting their property, so too do essentially all businesses in Anoka who rely on visiting customers who use Main Street in getting to their respective businesses. In light of this widespread, shared benefit I do not believe this scenario results in the type of legal conflict of interest scenario that would necessitate council members from abstaining from the vote.”

Agreement with Anoka County

At the same time as the city’s East Main Street project, Anoka County will be doing its own upgrades at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Main Street. This project will also include reconstruction of the street from improvements up to Eighth Avenue.

East Main is a city street between the Rum River and Fifth Avenue. East of Fifth it becomes a county road.

Last week the city council approved a joint powers agreement with the county, which addressed the cost share typically required of the city for the county’s project.

Under the county’s cost share participation plan, the city of Anoka would typically be required to contribute more than $37,000 to the project that will add turn lanes in all four directions at the Seventh and Main intersection.

But instead of making this payment, the city of Anoka has agreed to handling the mill and overlay of the road surface between Fifth and Sixth avenues, along with some curb, gutter and sidewalk work between Sixth and Seventh avenues that the county had not planned to do as part of its project.

The county will in turn compensate the city with a payment of $116,642 to have the work completed.

The JPA was unanimously approved by the city council, although Councilmember Jeff Weaver abstained from the vote and Councilmember Carl Anderson was absent from the Jan. 17 meeting.

Weaver owns the property where Hardees is located on the northeast corner of the intersection. During the construction phase, he will receive compensation from the county for a temporary easement. According to Weaver there will be a small permanent easement as well. Because of these small financial benefits, Weaver opted not to vote on the joint powers agreement.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]