Local interest in forming a Highway 65 coalition

Business owners and government representatives in Blaine want to establish a coalition focused on improving Highway 65.

Dick Haluptzok, chairperson of the Metro North Chamber of Commerce’s Government and Public Affairs Committee, said the former Trunk Highway 65 Corridor Intergovernmental Task Force gave the area a united voice as it sought funding for the 125th Avenue interchange and overpasses at 121st Avenue/Paul Parkway and 129th Avenue. The new task force could do this again for future Highway 65 projects.

An interchange is possible someday at Highway 65 and 109th Avenue, but local government and city leaders want to start organizing a coalition to plan for Highway 65 improvements and provide a united front when seeking state and federal funding. Photo by Eric Hagen

An interchange is possible someday at Highway 65 and 109th Avenue, but local government and city leaders want to start organizing a coalition to plan for Highway 65 improvements and provide a united front when seeking state and federal funding. Photo by Eric Hagen

“You need to be organized and at the table,” said Blaine City Manager Clark Arneson, alluding to the need for the communities along Highway 65 to organize efforts to figure out which areas need the most work and to collaborate to get state and federal funding.

The cities of Blaine and Ham Lake, Anoka County, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the North Metro Chamber of Commerce, state legislators, the Metropolitan Council and business members were involved in a Highway 65 task force that met 2003 through 2005, according to Blaine City Engineer Jean Keely.

Some of the same people that helped get the 125th Avenue interchange and two nearby overpasses built could be joining forces again to discuss more Highway 65 improvements – whether that be continuation of the frontage road system or interchanges at some of the busiest intersections such as 109th Avenue in Blaine.

Wayne Norris, MnDOT’s north area manager, shared at the April 24 Blaine Business Council meeting how MnDOT, Anoka County and the cities of Anoka and Ramsey are working on a Highway 10 access planning study between the Rum River and the Sherburne County border.

The long-range vision for Highway 10 is a freeway, but with cost projections exceeding $300 million, the study looks at phasing in improvements. For example, westbound fly-over lanes would allow traffic going in this direction to not have to stop, but eastbound traffic would still get traffic signals until the government could afford to complete an interchange.

Norris believes a similar study for Highway 65 that looks at all possibilities makes sense.

“I think it would be a great fit. That’s my opinion,” Norris told a crowd of about 35 people.

Wayne Norris, Minnesota Department of Transportation’s north area manager, shared with the Blaine Business Council how MnDOT is working with Anoka County and the cities of Anoka and Ramsey on a Highway 10 access study. He said a similar study along Highway 65 could be beneficial. Photo by Eric Hagen

Wayne Norris, Minnesota Department of Transportation’s north area manager, shared with the Blaine Business Council how MnDOT is working with Anoka County and the cities of Anoka and Ramsey on a Highway 10 access study. He said a similar study along Highway 65 could be beneficial. Photo by Eric Hagen

Arneson said Highway 65 is a barrier between east and west Blaine. The number one complaint people have is how long it takes to cross Highway 65.

Dean Richards, who lives in Blaine but commutes to work in Maplewood, said 109th Avenue is one of the most difficult intersections but the whole Highway 65 corridor takes a long time to navigate.

“I get tweets from my son about hitting every red light,” Richards said.

Anoka County is planning to add a dedicated right turn lane for eastbound 109th Avenue traffic going south on Highway 65. The current lane that can be used for going straight through the intersection or for turning right would solely be for a through lane.

Anoka County Engineer Doug Fischer said they are trying to “squeeze a little more capacity out of that intersection.”

Fischer said the traffic volumes of Highway 65 suggest a freeway is needed, but freeways create more access challenges. There could be an interchange at 109th Avenue someday, but planners would have to figure out what happens at 105th Avenue, which services a trailer park on the west side and businesses and the National Sports Center to the east.

According to MnDOT statistics from 2012, Highway 10 in Anoka and Ramsey has similar levels of traffic as Highway 65 in Blaine and Spring Lake Park.

Highway 10 is busiest in Anoka near the Rum River with about 65,000 vehicles a day. Highway 65 sees the most traffic near Highway 10 in Blaine with 59,000 vehicles a day. As you head west through Ramsey toward the Sherburne County border, traffic gets to the low 30,000s. Highway 65 in Blaine and Spring Lake Park is the least busy in these two cities around 125th Avenue and 81st Avenue with approximately 38,000 vehicles.

Highway 65 in Ham Lake typically saw a daily vehicle range in the low 30,000s in 2012.

Keely said the service roads in Blaine have been well-used. In 2012, the west service road had about 6,200 vehicles a day near 117th Avenue at its busiest point close to Walmart and Lowe’s. Davenport Street, on the other hand, averaged around 10,000 vehicles a day north and south of 109th Avenue.

Keely said the west service road was planned to go south of 109th Avenue to Clover Leaf Parkway, but the funding was not available.

Construction on the 125th Avenue interchange began in December 2005, according to Keely. Fischer said it was the fifth deadliest intersection in the state at that time and was an easy decision for the task force of government and business leaders to agree something needed to be done.

“That was the only part of the previous study that everyone agreed on,” Fischer said.

Although the Trunk Highway 65 Corridor Intergovernmental Task Force eventually stopped meeting, another group calling itself the North Trunk Highway 65 Corridor Coalition Group continues to meet to this day, but does not go farther south than East Bethel. The bulk of its membership is in Isanti and Kanabec counties.

According to an email shared by East Bethel City Administrator Jack Davis, this north Highway 65 group at its most recent meeting in March discussed working with area agencies to determine the economic impact to manufacturers based on lost time from congestion on Highway 65. Davis suggested inviting a MnDOT representative to the next meeting to see what MnDOT’s priorities are.

Norris covered various Highway 65 improvements MnDOT has planned in the near future, but noted that none of them would be major upgrades. The biggest project happening this year is resurfacing a four-mile stretch between County Road 10 in Spring Lake Park and I-694 in Fridley.

Although it’s not a road improvement, a new Highway 65 bus line will be operational by the end of August, according to Fischer. It will make one stop each in East Bethel, Ham Lake and Blaine before commuting to and from downtown Minneapolis during the morning and afternoon rush hours.

Who exactly is involved in this new Highway 65 task force has yet to be determined, but Haluptzok said, “We want as many people as possible to be involved.”

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

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