Just a few years ago, Anoka and Ramsey residents and business owners were commenting on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s long-range freeway vision for Highway 10 through their communities.
Although a freeway with interchanges at Armstrong Boulevard, Sunfish Lake Boulevard, Ramsey Boulevard and Thurston Avenue and an overpass at Fairoak Avenue remains the goal, MnDOT sees no serious influx of funding over the next 20 years to allow all these projects to get done, so it is evaluating short-term solutions for this area of Highway 10 that sees anywhere from 33,500 to 61,000 vehicles a day.
“The purpose of tonight is to introduce the study and listen to the residents and business owners about what’s important to them,” said Paul Jung, MnDOT north area engineer, at a Sept. 12 open house at the Ramsey Municipal Center.
Jung, who is serving as the lead project engineer, said most support some type of improvements, but there is a healthy amount of skepticism because they wonder how this study will be any different.
“We have a $300 million plan sitting on the shelf, collecting dust,” Jung said.
MnDOT is looking for goals that could be achieved in the next five to 10 years, assuming funding could be obtained, he said.
Sept. 12 was the first of three planned open houses, according to Jung. The next two dates have not been set.
Aside from a planned interchange at Armstrong Boulevard, there were no other interchanges, overpasses, service roads, access closures, noise walls or storm water ponds noted on the large map that spread over a few tables. As the evening went on, sticky notes were placed on the map to note comments such as the need for more landscaping, noise barriers, or better street lighting.
Marlin Fillipi always remembers Highway 10 as a four-lane road when he moved to Anoka 44 years ago, but the area was much more rural than it is today.
He remembers Armstrong Boulevard without a traffic signal and how people would have to wait before crossing multiple lanes of traffic if they wanted to turn left or cross the road. At one point, he said Thurston Avenue was going to be a major north-south route like Highway 47, but a housing development altered those plans. The railroad tracks were there when he moved to Anoka, but he sees many more trains today.
“I’m happy to see something get started,” he said.
The only thing the map noted in terms of road improvements was an interchange at Highway 10 and Armstrong Boulevard that the city of Ramsey, Anoka County and MnDOT have made a priority.
However, Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah and others have made it clear that this is one step to cutting down on traffic backing up.
“Armstrong Boulevard is the first priority we have identified, but the entire corridor is a priority for Anoka County and it has been for a long time,” Sivarajah told U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar during a May 31 meeting in Ramsey attended by other local government officials, business owners and residents. U.S. Sen. Al Franken visited Ramsey April 1.
According to MnDOT statistics, over half of the 1,621 crashes reported in the past 10 years were rear-end collisions at traffic signals and involved a westbound vehicle. About one in three crashes occurred during morning or afternoon rush hours. There were 13 fatalities between the 2003 and 2012 study period.
Larry Hickman has owned Plants and Things at the northeast corner of Highway 10 and Sunfish Lake Boulevard for 34 years and said it is a lot safer today than before. He loves the visibility of the location and said business has been great, but he knows an interchange will affect this intersection some day and said “business owners should be forewarned as fast as possible” when it becomes clear an interchange project will move forward.
Fillipi and Ramsey resident Jodell Kruse believe the county’s priority should be farther east at the Fairoak and Thurston intersections.
“I think they’re starting this at the wrong end,” Kruse said. “The congestion is on the other end.”
Kruse travels east in this area of Highway 10 around 5:30 a.m. every weekday to get to her job in Minnetonka on time and traffic is already backing up by then.
“It’s not just the late afternoon rush hour or the Friday night traffic going to the cabin,” she said.
Andrea and Bill Tucker have lived along Highway 10 in Ramsey near the way station for the past 13 years, so they see the traffic backing up Sunday evenings as people come home from weekend trips, Andrea said. Previous freeway expansion plans have showed that their home would be purchased.
Although Kruse said an interchange could attract more businesses to Ramsey, she wonders if this interchange is being developed too early.
“We don’t have the business here to warrant it. The business is down by Thurston,” she said.
The city of Ramsey has made the Armstrong interchange a priority to help the COR development, but also to improve safety and traffic flow, according to comments made in the meetings with Franken and Klobuchar.
Marty Fisher of Premier Commercial Properties in Ramsey said during the meeting with Klobuchar that more development is going to Maple Grove and Rogers because I-94 is better than Highway 10. He usually show clients prospective properties between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. so they do not see the traffic backing up. Companies do not want to deal with losing productivity because employees are stuck in traffic.
Ramsey Police Chief Jim Way said police, fire and paramedics can get stuck waiting for a train because the closest bridge over the tracks is Thurston Avenue in Anoka. The proximity of the tracks to the intersection can also be a challenge for drivers.
Wayne Norris, MnDOT’s north metro area manager, said the biggest issue is inflation. If the rate of funding does not keep up with MnDOT’s projected 5 percent annual inflation rate, it will be more difficult to get projects done.
The state fuel tax and motor vehicle registration tax is where 29 percent and 20 percent of MnDOT’s funding comes from, respectively. The other half of the dollars for road projects comes from several different sources, but the next big three are federal fuel tax grants, motor vehicle sales tax and federal aid.
Although the state gas tax has increased 8.5 cents per gallon since 2008, the last increase had come 20 years earlier and a five-year budget forecast released February actually shows an estimated decrease from $859 million to $840 million between the 2013 and 2017 fiscal years, partially because of vehicles becoming more fuel efficient.
However, the motor fuel sales tax revenue in fiscal year 2008 was $648.4 million and it jumped to $742.6 million in 2009 and $823.4 million in 2010, so there has been an initial increase as the state gas tax has risen.
On the other hand, motor vehicle registration tax revenue is projected to increase from $599 million to $693 million between fiscal years 2013 and 2017.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]