The state’s long-range vision for Highway 10 is a freeway uninterrupted by traffic signals. With costs rising to $300 million to add an extra lane in each direction and replace signals with overpasses, traffic engineers have come up with a series of solutions that could improve this corridor sooner rather than later.
“Now is the time we need to do something on this corridor,” said Chris Chromy, an engineer with Bolton and Menk, which has an office in The COR in Ramsey just off Highway 10.
A total of 110 local residents and business owners who travel this corridor every day attended a Feb. 26 open house at Green Haven Golf Club in Anoka to learn what ideas Bolton and Menk and the Minnesota Department of Transportation have for Highway 10 between West Main Street in Anoka and the Anoka County-Sherburne County border in Ramsey.
Two similar open houses will take place as the designs are refined based on public feedback from this meeting as well as individual meetings with stakeholders along the corridors and with public officials for Anoka County and the cities of Anoka and Ramsey.
For about 20 minutes during the open house, Chromy laid out statistics from the past 10 years. He said there were more than 1,600 crashes and 13 fatalities, including four involving pedestrians. An average of 81 trains travel through this area daily, with Thurston Avenue north of Highway 10 having the only bridge over the tracks.
A number of people said improvements need to happen, although there were mixed opinions on what the best solutions would be.
Bill Erhart is an attorney in the Erhart & Elfelt law office and has been working in Anoka for 30 years. He has commuted from Ramsey for 12 years and makes a point of leaving for work at 8 a.m. and leaving the office after 6 p.m. to avoid the heaviest periods of rush hour. If traffic is bad enough, he knows the back roads really well.
He believes MnDOT should not divert attention from the long-range plan and elected officials should work harder on bringing transportation funding to this state highway.
“It needs to be turned into a freeway as soon as possible,” Erhart said.
Chromy said MnDOT already has $30 billion worth of statewide projects identified for the next 20 years but only $18 billion in projected revenue. No Highway 10 projects are included in the 20-year project list. Chromy said by breaking down the projects individually into amounts ranging from $600,000 to $26 million, there would be a better chance of getting grants to start picking off projects.
Anoka County has already been promised a $10 million state grant to cover a new interchange at Highway 10 and Armstrong Boulevard in Ramsey. Chromy stated at the open house that construction would begin this fall. Not all funding has been secured, but the county has prioritized this project in its lobbying efforts for the state bonding bill.
Ramsey business owner Gary Harvet believes the county and MnDOT should delay any other projects until they see how effective the Armstrong Boulevard interchange is in relieving traffic. He has owned Auto Fitness and Service Center on the north side of Highway 10, east of Ramsey Boulevard, since 1994 and does not see the traffic issues that MnDOT is reporting.
Chromy said the corridor averages between 33,500 vehicles a day on the west end and 61,000 vehicles a day as you head further east toward Ferry Street. The worst area and time of congestion is westbound Highway 10 starting at Fairoak Avenue during the evening rush hour. MnDOT found that traffic often backs up more than a mile to the Rum River bridge.
The worst area for crashes is at the intersection of Highway 47 and Ferry Street, which does not have a traffic signal until you leave Highway 10.
Highway 10 intersections with West Main Street, Fairoak Avenue, Thurston-Cutters Grove Avenue and Sunfish Lake Boulevard were next in line for areas with the most crashes between 2003 and 2012. The Armstrong and Ramsey boulevard intersections had fewer crashes than these other intersections, according to a map from MnDOT.
A cheaper alternative to interchanges that could reduce the number of crashes could be to construct westbound fly-over ramps so this traffic does not have to stop at traffic signals. According to Chromy, 55 percent of the more than 1,600 accidents during the past 10 years involved westbound vehicles and 58 percent of all incidents were rear-end collisions.
First goal: reduce access
Paul Jung, MnDOT project manager in the north metro, said before any of these larger scale projects are addressed, the first step to improving Highway 10 is to reduce direct access points. According to Chromy, 44 of the 92 private properties along this state highway in Anoka and Ramsey only have one way in and out of their parking lots, and that is via Highway 10. MnDOT would have to provide alternative access onto a new frontage road or be forced to relocate or buy-out businesses.
Jung acknowledged that the north side of Highway 10 in Ramsey will be challenging, particularly near Ramsey Boulevard. The proximity of the railroad tracks makes it more difficult to develop a frontage road compared to the south side of Highway 10, which already has some semblance of a frontage road with Riverdale Drive, and the city of Ramsey is planning to extend this road from Traprock Street to Ramsey Boulevard this year.
One concept is to construct a frontage road north of Highway 10 between Sunfish Lake Boulevard and Thurston Avenue. This project alone could cost $6 million, according to an early estimate included in a project layout map.
Jung emphasized that none of these plans are set in stone and the reason for this open house was to gather input from residents and business owners.
“I don’t want people to think that MnDOT will be coming in tomorrow and taking out businesses,” Jung said.
Businesses by the Highway 10 and Fairoak Avenue intersection do not have to contend with railroad tracks, but the challenge here is the additional traffic, denser development and being the westbound transition point between a freeway and an expressway with traffic signals.
There is a partial frontage road on the south side, but you need to drive through Kmart’s parking lot at one point. All plans include extending the frontage road through this lot. An option that includes a new Thurston Avenue bridge could result in redevelopment of the Kmart site, and the service road in this option is shown going through Kwik Trip.
All options close a right-in, right-out by SuperAmerica, which concerns Harry Blair because his business is all about convenience and is worried that motorists will just drive to another gas station.
On the other hand, McDonald’s is the closest business to Fairoak Avenue on the south side of Highway 10. Kris Genck owns this location and is fine with this right-in, right-out access closing if it means safer travel. She also likes the idea of a pedestrian bridge or tunnel to safely get walkers and bikers across Highway 10, including many of her own employees that live nearby.
However, she opposes the option that closes the Fairoak Avenue access to Highway 10. It would require everyone to turn at the Thurston-Cutters Grove Avenue intersection where these businesses are not as visible.
“We’d go out of business,” Genck said.
Genck started working at this McDonald’s after she turned 16. She will also own the new McDonald’s that will soon be constructed in The COR in Ramsey, so she said she has a vested interest in this whole corridor.
Chromy understands these concepts are far from perfect, but the engineers believe these are reasonable solutions to address the safety and mobility issues.
“I ask that you look at it from the same set of goggles that we are,” Chromy said at the end of his presentation. “Not (looking) for the perfect plan for you, but what can be acceptable to you.”
Visit dot.state.mn.us/metro/projects/hwy10study for more statistics and maps.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]