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City gets first peek at Hwy. 71 plans

An exhibit provided by Apex Engineering Group shows the surface improvements planned as part of the 2019 Trunk Highway 71 improvement project. With north to the right, the map shows the stretch of highway to be improved by MnDOT in magenta, including a roundabout at the County 53/15 intersection. In yellow are the frontage roads and the portion of 11th Street where city improvements are proposed. Proposed sidewalks are marked in green.

The Park Rapids City Council approved a resolution Tuesday, Feb. 27 to accept an engineering report from Apex Engineering Group and set a public hearing about a major street and utility project planned for 2019.

Scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 27 in the public library's basement meeting room is a public hearing about a set of city street, water, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, sidewalk and lighting improvements growing out of the Minnesota Department of Transportation's (MnDOT) Trunk Highway 71 (TH71) improvement project.

MnDOT is proposing to improve TH71 from 8th Street south, including a roundabout at highway's intersection with County Road 53 (Industrial Park Road) and County Road 15 (Crocus Hill Street).

Jon Olson with Apex Engineering presented the firm's report about the city's proposed improvements to go along with MnDOT's roundabout and highway improvement project. He estimated the total cost to the city and adjacent property owners would be almost $1.5 million.

OIson said MnDOT decided to improve the intersection after a 2015-16 study in response to concerns that a high volume of traffic through the corner led to higher-than-normal rates and severity of crashes. The study concluded a roundabout was the best solution.

"There may crashes" after the improvements, said Olson, "but the severity of these crashes is very minor — fender-bender type incidents."

The MnDOT project grew to improving the highway up to 8th Street as an "urban section," with curbs, gutters and storm sewers, Olson explained. This gave the city an opportunity to address infrastructure concerns along that corridor.

Underground utilities

Olson advised the city council that two water mains crossing the affected section of highway should be replaced. Because the roadway is going to be lowered, the existing mains would not have enough ground cover to protect them from frost.

A sanitary sewer trunk line crossing the highway south of Power Street should also be replaced, Olson said, because it has aged past its useful life. A newer sanitary forcemain at County 15 may remain as it is.

Minor storm sewer improvements will also be needed to dovetail with MnDOT's urban section upgrade of TH71.

The proposed improvements would also extend city water and sewer to approximately eight parcels not currently being served.

Street improvements

Olson recommended that both 11th Street and the frontage roads be upgraded to an urban section.

Currently, 11th Street between TH71 and Main Avenue is an unimproved roadway. Street improvements as far west as Pleasant Avenue are recommended partly to go with the new utilities, and partly to provide access between Pleasant Avenue and the west frontage road during the project.

Olson called the frontage roads a "poorly-defined driving corridor," with parking areas blending into the roadway, no pedestrian facilities, ditches for drainage, and moderate cracking. Resurfacing and adding curb and gutter would improve drivability and protect pavement edges.

Olson advised terminating the west frontage road farther north, due to the configuration of the roundabout.

He also proposed adding a five- or six-foot-wide sidewalk along the east side of TH71 from the roundabout to 8th Street to make the area more pedestrian friendly.

MnDOT plans to put street lights at the roundabout, Olson said. The city has the option to light the highway corridor up to 8th Street with MnDOT paying 50 percent of the cost. Olson recommended that the city do this to provide consistent lighting throughout the corridor.

Councilmember Liz Stone said, "If it was lit, then it might reduce traffic speeding up because they feel like they're leaving town."

Practical matters

Olson said the engineers will work with MnDOT to ensure there is a traffic plan to meet the needs of businesses along the corridor during the project.

He said all but one or two of the property owners adjacent to the project have expressed willingness to grant temporary easements to allow the improvements to tie into their property. "Everybody's been pretty receptive to this," he said.

The majority of costs for the TH71 project will be borne by MnDOT, Olson said, with the county sharing some costs for the roundabout and adjacent improvements. The city will be responsible for the water, sewer and surface improvements on 11th Street and the frontage roads, 50 percent of the lighting along the corridor, and a portion of some administrative costs.

Cost estimates for the city improvements, which Olson stressed will remain estimates until design is complete and the bids come in, totaled $1,453,000. Of this total, approximately $462,000 could be assessed to adjacent property owners and $991,000 would be on the city's dime.

Olson estimated adjacent property owners would be assessed approximately $25,000 for a 100-foot lot or $35,000 for a 150-foot lot, with some property owners having larger parcels or multiple parcels. He said this was in keeping with similar projects within the city.

Because it is a cooperative project involving the county and MnDOT, Olson said the bidding will be administered by MnDOT.

In consent agenda business, the city council also authorized city officials to provide MnDOT temporary construction easements for its TH71 project. Olson advised the city MnDOT will probably request a permanent easement at some point for a "sliver" of land at the northeast corner of the roundabout.

Olson said he believes MnDOT is planning a separate project this summer to stripe a fog line on TH71 from 8th Street to Highway 34. Stone noted there has been a lot of confusion about whether that stretch of highway is a four-lane road.