East Bethel roadway plan draws debate

Poised at its June 18 meeting to approve the 2015-2019 Streets Capital Improvement Program, the East Bethel City Council said no to a plan for routing traffic from the Classic Commercial Park to Jackson Street Northeast. The park needs a second point of access to alleviate traffic-stacking issues, and the proposed project for 2015 includes completion of Buchanan Street Northeast and 189th Avenue Northeast to reach Jackson.

Citizen Roger Virta, also a member of the Roads Commission that guides the capital improvement plan, said commission had not been unanimous on how to create the other access. He voted no to the Jackson option because he has concerns about safety. He said Jackson is all residential and bears pedestrian, bicycle and horseback-riding traffic throughout each day.

Virta said the change would put people at risk by bringing increased traffic, heavy trucks, noise and vibration. He also has concern that the recent zoning change to light industrial and the presence of more big vehicles will reduce neighborhood property values.

“This will have a significant impact on that neighborhood,” Virta said.

He suggested creating the access point at County Road 22 instead, saying the option has no downside, except increased cost. Virta said that it will be impossible to change things once the roadway has been built.

The option of building the 189th-Buchanan route to Jackson is the least expensive at an estimated $1 million. East Bethel receives about $557,300 in Municipal State Aid funding each year, which would be used to help pay for this improvement.

City Administrator Jack Davis reminded the members that any other option would need state approval, and MnDOT had already said no to a few of them. Davis said it is always possible to ask again or re-examine the plan based on safety concerns.

Mayor Bob DeRoche said it will be nice to have another entry but agreed with Virta and questioned what was being sacrificed to create the entrance. Councilmember Ron Koller lives along Jackson and said it is the only north-south corridor besides Highway 65, and he’d hate to see new traffic mixed with all the people who walk or ride on the street.

“I think the simple thing to do would be to go to 22 since it is a county road,” said Koller.

Councilmember Tom Ronning said the Jackson plan seemed all wrong, that safety should be the first concern. The members discussed other options such as signage limiting truck travel to one direction, and Ronning called it “wishful thinking” – people will take whatever way exists and is easiest.

DeRoche suggested that the council discuss the roadway changes in a workshop; Councilmember Tim Harrington suggested inviting companies within the commercial park to the workshop. Both suggestions drew nods of agreement.

The council approved the rest of the roadway plan and agreed to set a workshop date to discuss the commercial-park access.