A drunk driver runs a red light at Sunfish Lake Boulevard and Highway 10, causing a multi-vehicle accident. People hurry to help the drivers, while the Ramsey Police cars are blocked from responding by a Burlington-Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) train passing through the railroad crossing.
Anoka Police officers and the ambulance can be seen on the video arriving as the Ramsey squads sit idle waiting for the train to pass.
This is the reason why he is so adamant about having an overpass in the city, said Ramsey Councilmember Jason Tossey at the March 12 city council meeting,
Tossey took the lead on updating to the residents on what the council is doing to improve the Highway 10/Armstrong Boulevard intersection, where the railroad tracks come close to the intersection.
Tossey joined Mayor Sarah Strommen, Councilmember John LeTourneau and City Administrator Kurt Ulrich in testifying before the state House and Senate transportation committees in February and earlier this week.
Strommen and Ulrich also joined the delegation of Anoka County and city of Anoka representatives that lobbied the U.S. Congress last month seeking $10 million in federal funds for the $35 million Armstrong Boulevard overpass project as well as other Highway 10 improvements from Anoka to Elk River, which have an estimated cost of $330 million.
“The existing conditions makes (Highway 10) a public safety powder keg,” Tossey said.
Both of the north/south routes in Ramsey that connect the police station to Highway 10 involve crossing the BNSF tracks, he said.
This is the only city in the county that has that problem with the BNSF tracks, he said.
The city is seeking $17 million from the state to build the overpass at Highway 10 and Armstrong Boulevard, where the rail line comes within two car lengths of the intersection.
There have been several tragedies along Highway 10 and this overpass will give the Ramsey Police a guaranteed way to get passed the trains and to the scene, Tossey said.
“Accidents will happen and the first responders need a way to get there,” he said.
“What if they were on the way to a call about a baby not breathing south of the tracks. Every minute counts.”
In 2000, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) came to the city with plans to widen Highway 10, make it a freeway, eliminate accesses to Highway 10 and the city agreed and started purchasing property along the route to help facilitate the project, Tossey said.
But no funding has been given to the project, he said.
The Armstrong overpass would include a tight diamond configuration on the north side and a loop in the southwest quadrant of the interchange as well as frontage roads on the south side of Highway 10.
The city of Anoka wants to see a grade separated overpass at Fairoak Avenue.
The preliminary design, done in 2010 by SRF Consulting Group, includes a tight diamond interchange at Thurston and Cutters Grove avenues and an underpass at Fairoak Avenue, according to Anoka Planner Director Carolyn Braun in a January interview.
The plan would expand Highway 10 to four lanes, with a possible future expansion to six lanes and having Fairoak go under Highway 10.
The proposal also includes 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.
March 18, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann asked the state Legislature to support funding to widen I-94 as well as for the improvements to Highway 10.
Improving Highway 10 will relieve the pressure on I-94 as well as improve safety on Highway 10, said Tossey.
According to the Ramsey video, Highway 10 has 41,000 vehicles a day traveling on it and has had 686 accidents in the last five years.
Improvements will protect people traveling on Highway 10, which has an accident rate five times higher than the state average, said Ulrich in an interview earlier this year.
The Anoka County Board has made Highway 10 a top priority this year, said Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look, who represents District 1 in which this section of Highway 10 is located.
Highway 10 has the nearly the same amount of traffic volume as I-35W and Highway 212 but the accident rate is much higher because it is not a freeway, he said.
There are approximately 13-16 deaths a year along this section of Highway 10, from Fairoak Avenue to Armstrong Boulevard, the equivalent of the deaths that occurred in the I-35W bridge collapse, Look said.
If the full Highway 10 expansion project receives state and federal funding, it would expand the roadway from two lanes to four lanes in each direction from Fairoak to 1,000 feet west of Armstrong Boulevard.
While the project is competing with other critical road projects in Minnesota, “they don’t have the fatalities that we do,” Look said.
The Highway 10 project will also provide an economic benefit to the region and employers in the area, he said.
Anoka County has the fastest growing population in the state, but it exports 70-80 percent of its workforce to other counties, according to Look.
This congestion deters businesses to moving to the area, which would relieve some of the congestion, Look said.
Improving the highway will enable people to get to work more safely, move products to and from the businesses more quickly and reduce the amount of time that fuel delivery trucks waste waiting in traffic, he said.
Look is hoping the project will receive $240 million in federal funding.
The state and local amount will be about $60 million, he said.
Right now the state receives $25 million in federal funds annually for the expansion of U.S. highways. Expansion needs are underfunded, Look said.
With interest rates and construction costs at an all time low, “time is of the essence,” he said.
Construction bids are coming in at 30 percent below the estimated costs because businesses are hungry and interest rates for government bonds are around 1.5 percent, Look said.
“We have a deteriorating infrastructure that is not going way. It is just going to get more expensive,” he said.
A second U.S. Congress lobbying trip is planned for late May.
“We are moving the ball ahead and raising awareness,” Look said.
To view the accident video, click here
Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]
With files from Mandy Moran Froemming.