Local city and county officials are hoping to drive Highway 10 improvements up the priority list for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
And to do that, they are planning to take their plea to the U.S. Capitol to lobby for federal funding that could help transform the state highway into a freeway.
The cities of Anoka and Ramsey have agreed to join Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look in Washington, D.C., consolidating their efforts to bring some change to the busy highway to include grade separated overpasses from Fairoak Avenue to a half-mile west of the Armstrong Boulevard intersection.
Look represents District 1, which includes Ramsey and portions of Anoka.
“We’re not talking about bridges to nowhere here,” Look said. “We’re talking about congestion, we’re talking about fatalities.”
Some of the current intersections are also complicated by the rail line that runs parallel to Highway 10, causing both traffic backups and major safety concerns.
Look said emergency responders are being caught on the north side of the train tracks while accidents are happening on the south side of Highway 10.
The group, which in addition to Look will include three representatives from the city of Anoka and two from Ramsey, plans to visit Washington in March when it hopes to meet with U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster along with Rep. Michele Bachmann as well as Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. They will also be joined by Ken Butler, Anoka County’s federal transportation lobbyist.
“The county has redirected all of our regional rail dollars to road dollars now,” said Look. “Our hope is to elevate this project not only on the federal radar but on the state radar and through the TAB (Transportation Advisory Board) process and the STIP (State Transportation Improvement Plan) and everything else that needs to happen.”
Look is currently a member of the TAB.
Federal funding could spur the project, which currently does not have any state funding, he said.
“It’s important for us to get in front of Washington, D.C., at this point and try to get some dollars,” Look said. “We have seen in the past if federal dollars come ahead of state planning, all of the sudden the state plans miraculously change.”
Look said the current state of Highway 10 is also stifling economic development.
“We’re hearing from businesses that they are not going to locate to the north because of congestion,” said Look. “That’s a problem. That’s a major problem.”
Cities sign on
Highway 10 improvements have been on the radar of cities like Anoka and Ramsey for a long time.
Anoka Planning Director Carolyn Braun said the city first stared studying the corridor back in 2001, along with MnDOT. But there was no funding for implementing that study. Anoka and Ramsey pushed ahead and were able to get federal funding in place to help put a plan in place for the highway in Anoka, and in 2009 and 2010 the city worked on preliminary engineering plans for the Thurston and Fairoak intersections with Highway 10.
“In 2010 MnDOT approved those preliminary plans and the environmental assessment but said there was no funding to do the project,” said Braun.
Since then, the city has not focused much attention on the corridor improvements.
But in Ramsey, the push has been on for upgrading the Armstrong Boulevard intersection with plans for an interchange coming together.
This $35 million project is also top of Anoka County’s wish list for the 2013 Minnesota Legislature seeking $17 million in state bonding to go along with $10 million in federal funding that is being sought. Anoka County and the city of Ramsey are also expected to chip in $4 million each. The project is also supported by MnDOT, should funding become available.
Creating an interchange at Armstrong will improve public safety, commercial traffic and congestion, said Kurt Ulrich, Ramsey city administrator.
Ulrich and Ramsey Mayor Sarah Strommen will join the local delegation in Washington to lobby for federal funding.
Currently the intersection is within the two car lengths of the rail line, making it unsafe, said Ulrich.
This intersection has not seen any upgrades in over 10 years, he said.
Improvements will also protect people traveling on Highway 10, which has an accident rate five times higher than the state average, according to Ulrich.
Anoka and Ramsey have both adopted resolutions to work together to solve this regional problem.
Anoka City Manager Tim Cruikshank pointed out that while Highway 10 is the responsibility of the state, the cities certainly have a stake in future upgrades.
“The reason the local units of government get involved is because without our poking and prodding and urging and requesting… likely we wouldn’t be on their priority list,” said Cruikshank.
The plan for Anoka’s stretch of Highway 10, put together back in 2010 by SRF Consulting Group, had a design that included a tight diamond interchange at Thurston and Cutters Grove avenues and an underpass at Fairoak Avenue, said Braun. Fairoak would run under Highway 10.
“This design allows traffic to maintain speed through Anoka, reducing the number of rear-end crashes and allows more traffic to flow, reducing congestion,” she said.
The preliminary design has four lanes, but the width of the overpasses would allow for expansion of the freeway to six lanes in the future.
Braun said the improvements also include a south frontage road, a trail on the south side of Highway 10 from Cutters Grove Avenue to West Main Street and trail crossings under Highway 10 at Cutters Grove and Fairoak.
Better pedestrian safety is also part of the need for improvements along Highway 10. There were four fatal pedestrian accidents within a four-mile stretch of the highway between Anoka and Ramsey from July to November of last year.
The Anoka City Council unanimously agreed to join the federal lobbying effort.
“We have got to do whatever it takes to get funding for that piece of roadway,” said Councilmember Carl Anderson. “How long have we been talking about this Highway 10. We’ve studied it up one side and down the other. We’ve got to the point where there’s no point studying it anymore because there is no funding.”
Cruikshank, Braun and Mayor Phil Rice will join the D.C. delegation early next month.
For Anoka, out of state travel for city employees is not typical and did need to receive approval from the city council.
Cruikshank said travel plans have not been made, so the cost of the trip is not yet known. They plan to spend two days and one night in D.C. Ramsey is estimating it will cost $1,500 to send Strommen and Ulrich to Washington.
MnDOT currently does not have any funding in place to upgrade Highway 10 to freeway status, said Wayne Norris, MnDOT North Area Manager for the Metro Region.
But the state, along with Anoka County, will soon be kicking off a 12- to 18- month study of the Highway 10 corridor from the Rum River to the Sherburne County border. The $500,000 study is being largely funded by the state.
“The focus is to identify where the access to Highway 10 from the local road network should occur,” said Norris.
While there isn’t an estimate in place, Norris said a cost of $300 million has been talked about in the media.
Norris said in addition to identifying those access points, they will be looking for lower cost solutions that yield a higher return on investment in the Highway 10 corridor. He said this will also help the cities to plan for future pedestrian and bike facilities.
But with no funding identified for this major overhaul, MnDOT is working on some smaller projects to improve traffic flow, including the extension of Riverdale Drive, a frontage road in Ramsey on the south side of Highway 10.
“These are the types of projects that help a corridor be more than what it is,” said Norris, by making it function better.
Right now the way Highway 10 operates does not meet the region’s future vision, he said
“Highway 10 used to be a main street, now it’s a commuting corridor,” Norris said.
With files from Tammy Sakry.
Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]