Second open house on University Avenue project

The Anoka County Highway Department is finalizing plans to reconstruct approximately 1.6 miles of University Avenue in 2014 and 2015 between 109th Avenue/Northdale Boulevard and Main Street N.W./125th Ave. N.E. in Blaine and Coon Rapids.

Matthew Parent (left), a planning project manager for Anoka County, answers questions posed by Brad Nelson of Coon Rapids and Dean Wagner of Blaine.
Matthew Parent (left), a planning project manager for Anoka County, answers questions posed by Brad Nelson of Coon Rapids and Dean Wagner of Blaine. Photo by Eric Hagen

The county hosted a second open house at Blaine City Hall Aug. 29 for property owners impacted by the project.

The county received $6,364,800 in federal funding to widen this corridor from two lanes to four lanes, have wider shoulders, have eight-foot pedestrian/bicycle paths on both sides and to have a concrete median that would only have gaps at the busiest intersections. Existing bus stop locations will be improved with pedestrian ramps or curb cuts.

In addition, the bridge over Sand Creek will be replaced as will an existing 88-inch span of reinforced concrete elliptical pipe at the crossing of County Ditch 39.

“It’s probably a good thing. It’s a long time coming for safety reasons,” said resident Mary Rooney. “In the future it will get more congested. People are driving longer treks to work. Any time you can lessen the chance of crashes is a good thing.”

A “Road Work Ahead” sign visible to northbound University Avenue traffic in this area could be considered foreshadowing, but this particular sign actually references the Main Street reconstruction project that is wrapping up.

In recent years, University Avenue has reconstructed in two segments from County Road 10 to Northdale Boulevard. This would be the third and final phase to complete upgrades on University from County Road 10 to Main Street/125th Avenue.

Rooney and Marge Hagen of Blaine have lived in the area for about 50 years and both remember when University Avenue was a two-lane dirt road.

With the new houses and additional traffic that have come over the years, Hagen believes it is a very good idea to widen the road.

Her main concern is what happens during the road reconstruction 109th Avenue became such a popular route for those detoured by the Main Street reconstruction that Hagen said could hardly get out of her driveway, and she imagines she will be affected again.

Curt Kobilarcsik, right of way supervisor for Anoka County, said it is difficult to keep roads open to two-way traffic without slowing the project down, but the official decision on what will happen with University Avenue traffic during the reconstruction has not been made.

Brad Nelson believes he will see more traffic drive by his home even after the road project is completed. He lives in a Coon Rapids neighborhood that can now turn any way they want onto University Avenue from 120th Lane.

With the concrete median in the way, they must go to 121st Avenue to head north on University Avenue, Nelson said. Although concerned about the neighborhood traffic being re-routed, Nelson does support the widening of the road, he said.

On the other hand, Gary Keyzers of Coon Rapids does not see the point of widening the road. “You cannot go a mile without meeting a traffic signal,” he said.

He does not believe a four-lane, 55 mph highway is necessary, Keyzers said.

According to Keyzers, this is not “an up and coming corridor” because there are other north-south corridor options that are already wider such as Highway 65 and Hanson Boulevard.

Keyzers said one of the reasons he moved to his home by the Morningside Memorial Gardens cemetery in 1993 was because of the trees already on the property.

These pine, blue spruce and Black Hills spruce trees have grown taller and Keyzers would hate to lose more of them, he said.

He already lost some when a tornado blew through the area and the traffic noise has seemed louder to him ever since, according to Keyzers.

“It’s a neighborhood. Why make it into a thoroughfare?” Keyzers said.

Kobilarcsik said it is too early to tell how each property would be impacted. In general, the county is planning to take property evenly on both the Blaine and Coon Rapids sides. The county is estimating that it will need permanent or temporary easements from over 100 parcels.

University Avenue averages 14,000 vehicles a day, but the county estimates that traffic volumes by 2034 will range from 18,000 to 22,000 vehicles a day.

Blaine High School, Northdale Middle School, Morningside Memorial Gardens and the Park of Four Seasons manufactured home development are a few places in the area that contribute to this traffic.

Access to some of these locations and other local businesses and homes will be impacted by the project due to the concrete median. Although supportive of the road widening, Dean Wagner of Blaine questioned why the concrete medians were needed.

It has been the county’s stance for projects on roads going from two lanes to four lanes to add concrete medians because it reduces the potential of head-on collisions.

Several residents asked for three-quarter accesses where there was only right-in, right-out turning movements being allowed, according to Kobilarcsik. He said the problem with these intersections is it creates another conflict point because traffic could turn left onto a local road. The only movement not allowed by a three-quarter intersection is turning left onto the main road, which is University Avenue in this case.

Kobilarcsik said the county will do a traffic study to see if a signal would be warranted at the manufactured home park access. For now, the plan is to replace the existing traffic signals with new signals at 111th, 117th and 125th avenues to accommodate the wider road.

The University Avenue intersection with 111th Avenue and 111th Lane will be realigned so the roads line up with each other rather than continue to be off-set.

Federal funds will cover most of the estimated project costs of $7,964,800. Kobilarcsik said the joint powers agreement (JPA) will likely be wrapped up later this year or early next year to determine cost sharing for the remaining portion. Both the Blaine and Coon Rapids city councils and the Anoka County Board must approve the JPA before the project moves forward.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]