Fridley and Spring Lake Park city staff, school district employees and business owners exuded frustration when they met Monday with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to discuss upcoming construction on Highway 65.
Rep. Connie Bernardy and Sen. Barb Goodwin hosted the meeting to address community concerns about the proposed construction this summer and fall.
MnDOT intends to resurface a 4-mile stretch of Highway 65 in Fridley and Spring Lake Park.
At Monday’s meeting, MnDOT told community leaders that road closures will likely begin several hundred feet south of Moore Lake Drive and extend to County Highway 10.
The plan is to detour traffic to state roadways, closing one direction of highway traffic at a time.
Southbound traffic will be detoured first, then northbound traffic.
No adjacent intersections will be closed simultaneously, but most intersections will close for up to two weeks while traffic signals are adjusted to suit the road’s new, greater height.
Worried about the construction’s effect on local businesses and the potential wear-and-tear on city roadways, government leaders pressed for crossovers, rather than detours. Crossovers would cut traffic down to one lane, but allow traffic to flow both north and south on one side of the median.
“Our construction and traffic folks are opposed strongly to the crossover option,” said Wayne Norris, north area manager for MnDOT, repeating this sentiment continually during the two-plus hour meeting. Crossovers would add more than $1.6 million to the cost of the project, as construction crews would need to install temporary drainage systems, traffic signals, turn lanes and more, Norris said.
For Spring Lake Park City Administrator Dan Buchholtz, $1.6 million seems reasonable. He said that in late 2012 he was told by Paul Jung, north area engineer with MnDOT, that crossovers would cost closer to $4 million.
If they were going to account for 40 percent of the project’s total cost – estimated at $9.3 million – Buchholtz knew crossovers would be a “tough sell,” he said. But he would have pushed harder earlier if he had known $1.6 million was the estimate.
Though Jung was at the meeting, Norris responded to Buchholtz’s statements. The hard construction costs are $1.6 million, he said, but there are also the road-user costs to consider.
“What is this going to cost our community in the long run?” Sen. Barb Goodwin asked.
Bids will not go out until April, so there is still time for change, she said.
Norris agreed, but maintained that crossovers are not the recommendation.
In addition to higher costs, they add an additional month or so of time to the construction schedule, and this delay could cause the project to become a two-season undertaking. “What we’re looking at is can we get in and out as soon as possible,” Norris said.
With detours, MnDOT has construction scheduled to begin June 2 and run through October, he said.
The current bidding climate has produced bids that have come in under estimate in Spring Lake Park, Buchholtz said. He asked MnDOT to consider bidding out crossovers as an alternate.
MnDOT would not rule it out, Jung said, but there remain safety concerns with crossovers.
On such a heavy-traffic road – more than 30,000 cars travel up and down the highway each day by MnDOT’s count – the engineers don’t want to see head-to-head traffic for public safety reasons.
Protecting local businesses’ interests
Serving as a moderator of sorts, Bernardy continually returned to questions from Fridley City Manager Wally Wysopal.
Setting aside a desire for crossovers, Wysopal asked MnDOT staff to talk him through proposed detours.
He said he didn’t see proper signage promoting local businesses access indicated on maps drawn up by MnDOT. For example, if drivers were headed eastbound on County Highway 10 in Spring Lake Park, Wysopal understood that drivers would be directed to go all the way to Interstate 35W when southbound lanes were closed.
Only through traffic would be directed in such a way, Jung said, stating that local business detours were not included on the map at this time and would need to be approved by county and city governments.
Attendees suggested Pleasant View Drive or Silver Lake Road as alternative routes off of County Highway 10 from which drivers could access local businesses most easily.
Jung said he would take a look and have something prepared for the next meeting, scheduled for March 10 at Fridley City Hall.
Those assembled wanted to start closures at Moore Lake Drive on the south end, not several hundred feet beyond the roadway, as MnDOT planned. Closing that stretch would impact a lot of businesses, including the Shorewood Bar and Grill, said the restaurant’s General Manager Evonne Tauer.
Norris said he would see what options there were for that stretch and report back next week.
When Interstate 694 was under construction, Shorewood Bar and Grill lost 40 percent of its business, Tauer said, and this is going to be worse.
“I’m not sure that our business can withstand this kind of an impact,” she said. “It’s going to be [almost] impossible for us to function.”
In addition to complicated detours dissuading patrons, Tauer worried about dust and noise ruining the outdoor dining experience.
MnDOT contracts do include provisions about dust and noise, and MnDOT Public Affairs Coordinator Denise Workcuff encouraged Tauer to remain in contact with her about these issues.
Tauer wondered if there might be money available to subsidize businesses during the interruption. She said she had heard of other businesses getting help from MnDOT.
MnDOT staff present at the meeting had never heard of subsidies like that and said they would look into it.
Goodwin urged MnDOT to protect businesses by putting specific provisions in the bid contract, like reopening segments of Highway 65 as soon as they are completed.
Norris made no promises and said that he does not determine what ultimately ends up in the contract.
“I just feel like our community is not truly being listened to,” Goodwin said. “It’s just no, no, no …. Let’s have a little more cooperation.”
MnDOT wants to work with business owners, Workcuff said. There is an open house planned specifically for them in April or May, and a community open house will take place some time after that.
“We left a little frustrated,” Buchholtz said. “There’s no doubt – this road needs to be reconstructed. It’s doing it in a way that has the least impact ….”
Olivia Koester is at firstname.lastname@example.org