Ramsey council has more questions about intersection

The Ramsey City Council Tuesday evening indicated support for a traffic signal at the intersection of County Road 5 (Nowthen Boulevard) and Alpine Drive, but did not approve a joint powers agreement with Anoka County because there are more questions and some disagreement on what else the project should include.

Jim Hirschman and his wife Patricia have lived in Ramsey since 1982, before the new County Road 5 (Nowthen Boulevard) was constructed and when Alpine Drive was just a gravel access road for three homes to the east of Old County Road 5. They have a number of concerns about the project to install a traffic signal at the intersection of County Road 5 and Alpine Drive because it will continue the trend of making the area more urban. Photo by Eric Hagen

Jim Hirschman and his wife Patricia have lived in Ramsey since 1982, before the new County Road 5 (Nowthen Boulevard) was constructed and when Alpine Drive was just a gravel access road for three homes to the east of Old County Road 5. They have a number of concerns about the project to install a traffic signal at the intersection of County Road 5 and Alpine Drive because it will continue the trend of making the area more urban. Photo by Eric Hagen

“I think the council sees the value in the project,” Mayor Sarah Strommen said. “I don’t think anybody is going to stand here and say it’s a perfectly safe intersection and we don’t need to do anything, but we want to make sure we have a good project and it doesn’t create other issues.”

The project, which would be constructed this summer if the council approves the joint powers agreement, is estimated to cost $1,692,666.

The city’s share would be $226,014 that would include a possible trail and water main extension, according to City Engineer Bruce Westby. A federal grant will cover up to $936,000 of project cost and Anoka County will pay the rest.

The majority of the council did not openly object to installation of a traffic signal at the intersection, but they do not want medians.

There is disagreement, however, on whether a trail extension should be included.

The council also wants more homework done on whether the steep grade on Old County Road 5 could be lowered for less than the $100,000 estimate Westby gave. The county is planning to close the south access of Old County Road 5 to County Road 5, but the north access would remain.

Milt Weichelt said he does not go out the north access often because of the slope of the road is so steep when you go that way. He gave it a try and ended up sliding backwards to the south onto County Road 5.

“Yesterday and today are not days you’d want to go up that slope,” he said in reference to the snow that fell Jan. 13.

There was a split 3-3 vote on approving the joint powers agreement with removal of the trail and medians. Councilmembers Chris Riley, Mark Kuzma and Jason Tossey supported this, while Mayor Strommen and Councilmembers Jill Johns and John LeTourneau voted no.

Councilmember Randy Backous was not at the Jan. 14 council meeting to break the tie and LeTourneau’s motion to just remove the trail, which would have kept the medians, did not even get a vote because nobody seconded his motion.

One question that will be answered by the council’s next meeting Jan. 28 is whether the county would buy a 0.57-acre parcel on the northwest corner of the intersection for a stormwater ponding area.

City and county staff had worked out an agreement in which the city would give the county this land in exchange for the county designing a 700-foot trail on the north side of Alpine Drive from County Road 5 to where an existing trail ends 100 feet west of Krypton Street. The city would have paid for construction of this trail that would close a gap in the area’s trail system, according to Westby.

The affected homeowners opposed having a trail in front of their house.

No medians

This was the second time the council has delayed action on the intersection project joint powers agreement. The council Jan. 10 tabled a vote so the county could review whether the federal grant required concrete medians.

Curt Kobilarcsik, a county engineering program manager, said the federal grant is not contingent on the medians being there, but said Anoka County Highway Department staff feel they are necessary.

Kobilarcsik said the county is relocating a couple of residential accesses to Alpine Drive and closing the south access on Old County Road 5 to reduce the number of accesses on County Road 5 where the medians were proposed.

In an email to the city, Kobilarcsik wrote that the speed limits are high in this area and this is a skewed intersection and medians provides channelization so drivers have a clear understanding of where they should be when approaching the intersection.

Kobilarcsik said the dentist office on the southeast corner of the intersection would still lose its full access and be restricted to right-in, right-out because there is no space to develop a left-turn lane for southbound traffic. Without the median, there would be no place for people to make a U-turn to get into the business, he said.

“We’re doing the thing we need to do to make this the best intersection possible because it’s going to be there for a while and we want to make sure we’re doing it right,” Kobilarcsik said.

LeTourneau believes that medians will be required along County Road 5 as the area develops and he is not opposed to medians at the County Road 5 and Alpine Drive intersection. Kobilarcsik said that medians would not necessarily be needed elsewhere along County Road 5.

Strommen said past councils heard similar messages from the county on Bunker Lake Boulevard and concerns have been raised about the impact medians are having for people to access businesses at the intersection of Highway 47 and Bunker Lake Boulevard.

The council must consider the long-range future of County Road 5 because Ramsey Elementary School and the old municipal center site that could have a data center or more housing are just south of Alpine Drive, she said.

“Part of our job is to understand how the entire corridor is going to function, and I don’t really get a vision of that because all this project does is plan for a particular intersection,” Strommen said.

Trail extension

Jim and Patricia Hirschman have lived in their home on the northeast corner since 1982. They loved the feeling of living away from the bustle of the city. Alpine Drive did not extend to the west of Old County Road 5 and only extended far enough east to be a long gravel driveway for four homes.

As the roads in the area changed as the population increased, they have continued to lose what they sought when moving to Ramsey over 30 years ago.

Patricia said they have had several items stolen out of their yard. “We get concerned in our neighborhood when people walk in the ditch,” Jim said. “Now they’re going to be walking in our yard.”

They used to enjoy sitting around an outdoor fire pit, but have stayed indoors more to get away from the noisy road. They will be losing more trees because of this project, according to the Hirschmans.

The other two homeowners Mark Martensen and Frank Dehn also oppose the trail. Dehn said that his driveway is very steep and he was concerned about the difficulty seeing pedestrians as he is trying to back out of his driveway.

Johns, a former parks and recreation commission member, questioned whether the city needed to construct the 700-foot trail extension if the city was giving 0.57-acre of parkland for the stormwater pond.

City Administrator Kurt Ulrich suggested the county could buy the land for the pond and that revenue could be put into the parks fund.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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