Andover wants to improve intersection by high school

The city of Andover may reconstruct the Andover and Crosstown boulevards intersection by Andover High School to improve the flow of traffic on southbound Crosstown Boulevard on weekday mornings during the school year.

There are traffic jams on southbound Crosstown Boulevard north of Andover High School every morning during the school year. The city of Andover would like to improve the Andover and Crosstown boulevards intersection that serves as the main entrance to the school grounds to improve traffic flow. This photo was taken about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday morning (April 2), which is 10 minutes before school starts. Photo by Eric Hagen
There are traffic jams on southbound Crosstown Boulevard north of Andover High School every morning during the school year. The city of Andover would like to improve the Andover and Crosstown boulevards intersection that serves as the main entrance to the school grounds to improve traffic flow. This photo was taken about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday morning (April 2), which is 10 minutes before school starts. Photo by Eric Hagen

Although a recent Bolton and Menk study paid for by the city acknowledges the best long-term solution for this whole area would be to widen Crosstown and Hanson boulevards, which are both county roads, to four lanes, Anoka County Highway Engineer Doug Fischer said the only improvement planned in the next five years is intersection work at Hanson and 161st Avenue.

Both options the city is exploring extends the southbound Crosstown Boulevard right-turn lane and makes it a free flowing lane so traffic turning west on Andover Boulevard does not have to stop. There would be a separate lane for westbound Andover Boulevard vehicles just west of the intersection, but drivers would have to merge before making the final right-hand turn into the parking lot.

The estimated $300,000 option re-stripes lanes, while a $530,000 alternative widens the intersection.

“Even though this isn’t a cheap project, it’s the best we can do with a bad situation,” Councilmember Sheri Bukkila said.

A Feb. 25 letter from Anoka-Hennepin School District Transportation Director Keith Paulson to the city stated that the district would support any of these options, but the letter does not indicate whether the district would help pay for it.

City Engineer and Public Works Director David Berkowitz updated the council at a March 26 workshop. The next step is for the council to include this project in its capital improvements planning document and continue discussions with the school district and county about cost sharing. Berkowitz said the very earliest work could begin is 2014.

Crosstown traffic

Marsha Stam is the front desk greeter before you get to the high school’s main office. She heads west on Andover Boulevard to get to the school and the drive can really get jammed up if she arrives at school too close to the time the first bell rings at 7:40 a.m.

Dan Cowan, a high school parking lot security attendant, gets a first-hand glimpse at southbound traffic slowing to a crawl in the morning. It can sometimes take buses several minutes to get back out on Crosstown Boulevard after dropping off students. The bus exit is around 148th Avenue.

Lori Watzl usually leaves for work between 7:20 and 7:30 a.m. and gets on Crosstown Boulevard from 149th Avenue. At that point, traffic is already backed up to this intersection, but other drivers are good about letting people turn onto the road.

Sean Beggin, one of the assistant principals at the high school, has heard students say the traffic has backed up as far as Nightingale Street around 7:20 a.m. One photo in Bolton and Menk’s report shows visual proof of this during a winter morning. Just a small amount of snow or a wet road makes traffic worse because people are slowing down, Beggin said.

The Crosstown-Nightingale intersection is uncontrolled and will not be redone when the city reconstructs Nightingale Street between Crosstown Boulevard and 161st Avenue this summer.

Berkowitz said the city wants to see how improving the Andover-Crosstown intersection by the high school will help the traffic flow before it spends more money on another project.

Principal Rhonda Dean is already in her office by the time the heavy traffic really starts to hit about 20 minutes before the first class bell rings at 7:40 a.m. She asks students to plan to leave home five minutes earlier than usual to account for the heavy traffic. A lot of students carpool, but one slow person affects everyone else in that carpool.

Dean said there are a lot of tardy students some days, especially in the winter. This leads to detention if enough tardy slips are accumulated.

“I’m pleased that the city is looking at making some modifications because it does impact the neighboring community,” she said.

What the study looked at

Bolton and Menk studied the current and 2030 projected traffic patterns of Hanson Boulevard from Andover to Crosstown boulevards, Crosstown Boulevard from Hanson to Andover boulevards and Andover Boulevard from Crosstown to Hanson boulevards.

In addition, the Hanson-Andover, Hanson-Crosstown, Crosstown-Nightingale and Crosstown-Andover intersections were looked at.

According to Bolton and Menk, the best long-term solution would be to continue widening Hanson Boulevard north of where the county finished its last project and widen Crosstown Boulevard, but there are no immediate plans for this to happen.

The county seeks federal funds for these large projects and is now focusing its efforts in Andover on making the whole stretch of Bunker Lake Boulevard four lanes. Reconstruction of Bunker Lake Boulevard between Seventh to 38th avenues will start this summer. The county also received a federal grant to reconstruct Bunker Lake Boulevard east of Hanson Boulevard to Jefferson Street in Ham Lake. This could begin in 2015.

Another long-range plan that the city has already talked about is extending Andover Boulevard west to Round Lake Boulevard. Beggin said this would give students commuting from western Andover a shorter route to the school that avoids the already congested Crosstown Boulevard.

Berkowitz would like to see Andover Boulevard extended sooner rather than later, but said the city’s current policy is to wait for that area to develop more before extending the road.

About a dozen short-term solutions were suggested, but about half of those would only have a low benefit in improving traffic flow, according to the Bolton and Menk report.

The least expensive short-term option with a rating of “high” was to add a left-turn lane at the high school’s north access drive that buses use. This may only cost $120,000.

However, the study and people interviewed for this story noted that traffic is not as bad in the afternoon on Crosstown Boulevard because students get out of school much earlier than people are coming home from work. The morning commute is the worst because students are going to school at the same time that many people are traveling to work.

Bolton and Menk found that southbound Crosstown Boulevard vehicles get backed up as far as 3,000 feet north of Andover Boulevard. With the free flowing right-turn lane at Andover Boulevard, the queue length could be reduced to around 650 feet.

If the city chose the least expensive of the two options and re-striped this intersection, vehicles leaving the high school to go east on Andover Boulevard or south on Crosstown Boulevard would share the same lane. Each gets its own lane today. The study estimates that vehicles may only back up an additional 40 feet, so the impact would be minimal. There would still be a dedicated left-hand turn lane.

Andover Mayor Mike Gamache thinks a lot of problems could be solved if the high school started and ended an hour later.

Anoka-Hennepin Chief Operations Officer Chuck Holden said the district has a tiered schedule between the elementary, middle and high schools to be the most efficient with its buses.

Changing the start and end time of one school would create a domino effect that causes a lot of other problems, he said.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]

  • Ben

    This intersection could also use a better crosswalk. There is no shoulder on the northbound side of Crosstown, making the southbound side the option for pedestrians and cyclists, but it is hard to get across sometimes. I bike through there a lot and don’t feel safe going with the traffic, even though I have the legal right, but at the same time it’s hard to get to the bicycle path.