Open house June 25 on proposed Highway 10 changes

The Minnesota Department of Transportation, the cities of Anoka and Ramsey, and the Bolton and Menk engineering consulting firm have prioritized projects to improve traffic flow and safety on and near Highway 10.

A 6-8 p.m. June 25 open house at Green Haven Golf Course, 2800 Greenhaven Road, will give residents and business owners an updated look at these priorities. A presentation will be made at 6:30 p.m.

Chris Chromy, of Bolton and Menk, (center) visits with Ramsey business owners at a June 3 open house for stakeholders along Highway 10. An open house for the general public is 6-8 p.m. June 25 at Green Haven Golf Course. Photo by Eric Hagen

Chris Chromy, of Bolton and Menk, (center) visits with Ramsey business owners at a June 3 open house for stakeholders along Highway 10. An open house for the general public is 6-8 p.m. June 25 at Green Haven Golf Course. Photo by Eric Hagen

This will highlight what officials are calling a more cost-effective approach compared to turning Highway 10 into a full freeway between the Rum River and the Sherburne County border, which would have cost more than $300 million.

“In today’s times that’s pretty difficult to fund,” said Chris Chromy, of Bolton and Menk.

The result has been a more flexible, reasonably priced plan, Chromy said.

Four representatives of Anoka businesses attended a June 4 morning meeting at Anoka City Hall to show the latest designs to Highway 10 stakeholders.

“I think (Anoka) businesses are supportive of immediate projects up to the point where access changes,” Chromy said, noting concerns business owners had over possibly losing the traffic signal and full access at Fairoak Avenue someday, which in turn would require the extension of frontage roads on the north and south sides of 10.

The latest version of the plans show phased removal of the traffic signals at both Fairoak and Thurston avenues.

In the short run, Anoka County is seeking funding from the state to add concrete barriers and fencing to the Highway 10 median to prevent people from jaywalking across a state highway that sees approximately 61,000 vehicles a day in this area. At the same time, trails would be added from Verndale to Fairoak avenues on the north side of 10 and from Fairoak to West Main Street on the south side of 10.

Over the past 10 years there have been 1,600 crashes on the 7-mile stretch of Highway 10, including 13 fatalities.

There have also been four pedestrian deaths – three in 2011 and one in 2012.

Congestion is especially heavy westbound in the afternoon as Highway 10 transitions from a freeway to the first signalized intersection at Fairoak. Backups of more than a mile at Fairoak are projected to shrink to a quarter-mile once the signal is removed, Chromy said.

Anoka City Manager Tim Cruikshank said it is a balancing act to find solutions that address safety and congestion problems that are also considerate of business access.

“Change is difficult and we don’t know how it is all going to work yet,” Cruikshank said.

Anoka has a diverse mix of smaller retail along with industrial and institutional uses along the Highway 10 corridor.

Anoka Councilmember Jeff Weaver has also raised concerns about how easily customers will be able to access Highway 10 businesses once signals start being removed.

“To lose that or make it difficult to operate doesn’t work for me,” Weaver said when the plan was recently presented to the Anoka City Council.

Roger Freeman, facilities manager at Anoka Technical College and Anoka Ramsey Community College, said the planning process for Highway 10 has been an inclusive one.

But it still remains to be seen just how and when the changes will come into effect.

He knows proposed changes will mean less convenient access to the west parking lot, where direct access from Highway 10 will be removed and drivers will instead use a frontage road.

“But it will be safer,” Freeman said.

Of the more than 2,500 people who come and go from the campus on a daily basis, most of them are driving, Freeman said.

Ramsey’s concerns

In Ramsey, the next priority after the interchange upgrade at Armstrong Boulevard is to improve the frontage road system.

The Ramsey business stakeholders meeting the evening of June 3 drew about 30 people and there was no general consensus on any project. Most people anonymously polled said they either needed more information or were indifferent. What this tells Chromy, he said, is that business owners are willing to listen to ideas, but it is too early to comment when the plans are not very defined. It is still unclear what will happen at Ramsey and Sunfish Lake boulevards. Chromy does not feel a full interchange will be necessary at Ramsey Boulevard, but acknowledged different people will have different interpretations.

“Unfortunately we can’t commit to a time frame on any of these projects because no funding has been identified,” Chromy told Ramsey business owners.

In the meantime, Ramsey is planning to extend Riverdale Drive on the south side of 10 between Armstrong Boulevard and Traprock Street this year. At a future date, the road will be extended to Ramsey Boulevard. A new north Highway 10 frontage road from Ramsey Boulevard to the Anoka Technical College is another “immediate” need, according to the Highway 10 Access Planning Study.

Jim Deal, of PSD, LLC, said the Riverdale Drive extension and Armstrong Boulevard interchange will make a big difference in developing the former Diamonds Sports Bar property that PSD owns at the south side of 10 and west of Traprock Street.

PSD owns property on both sides of Highway 10 in this area, but the greater impact would have been on the former Diamond’s property.

Deal said a bridge at Rhinestone Street “would have ruined our property, but this isn’t about us.” He said it did not make any sense to build a bridge at Rhinestone Street instead of investing that money into a bridge at Ramsey Boulevard.

Paul Jung, MnDOT’s project manager for the Highway 10 access study, said Ramsey Boulevard — a county road — is the primary crossroad to Highway 10 in this area, so it makes more sense to have an overpass or interchange there rather than from the city’s Rhinestone Street.

“We wouldn’t have built two overpasses that close together,” Jung said when asked how having a bridge at Rhinestone Street would have impacted Ramsey Boulevard.

Chromy said the Rhinestone bridge was considered in the first draft of Highway 10 access study plan because Bolton and Menk saw it as an alternative to the pedestrian bridge that Ramsey may build across 10 to make it easier for people to get across the city and access the Mississippi West Regional Park and future trails along the river.

Once the Ramsey City Council, through a resolution, let Bolton and Menk know how the Rhinestone bridge would impact developable property, this concept was scrapped.

Ramsey Councilmember Jason Tossey said this is a fluid situation, so it can be hard to project every scenario.

“Our best hope is that (Jim Deal) brings in a great retailer that makes Ramsey an attraction,” Tossey said.

In the end, Tossey said it could be well over 20 years before any work is done on the Highway 10 intersections at Ramsey or Sunfish Lake boulevards because the city of Ramsey and Anoka County invested a lot of money in new medians not too long ago. He has heard that even some of the projects classified as “immediate needs” could be 10 years from happening, but Tossey thinks there will be momentum from the Armstrong project to get things done even sooner.

“The point I’ve made with other business people is you have to address how this will affect you,” Deal said.

The June 25 meeting will be another opportunity for business owners and residents to share how future projects could affect them.

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

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