MnDOT: ‘Very difficult’ to maintain status quo

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    If a draft of the “Scope of Services” proposed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation leading up to a 2024 replacement of the brick-paver sidewalks in downtown Crookston to make them ADA-compliant is any indication, City officials, city council members, downtown business owners, downtown stakeholders, pedestrian safety proponents and anyone else interested in being involved are going to have quite a say in what the entire project ends up entailing.

    Bemidji-based MnDOT District 2 Project Manager Matt Upgren will discuss the draft scope of services with the Crookston City Council Monday evening, Feb. 8. He told the council in January he hopes to have cost-share joint powers agreement with the City in place by the end of this month.

    The draft scope of service is just over eight pages in length and covers a timeline until Dec. 21, 2021, which coincides with the time it’s expected to take to conduct a comprehensive study of the U.S. Highway 2 traffic corridor as it makes its way through downtown Crookston, north of Robert Street on downtown’s two Highway 2 arteries, North Main and North Broadway. (Main and Broadway south of Robert Street are not considered part of the U.S. Highway 2 corridor, meaning the City would need to fund replacement of the brick-paver sidewalks along streets south of Robert Street.)

    About four pages of the draft scope of services is dedicated to the extensive process that will be undertaken by community stakeholders, entitled “Community Review Panel and Public Engagement.” Assembling the Community Review Panel (CRP) and the executing the “Crookston Corridor Study Public Engagement Plan” are both required components of the project. According to the draft scope of services, the role of the CRP is to “provide input on issues and concerns affecting the corridor, including preservation needs, safety concerns, bottlenecks, freight needs, access management and land use policies.”  As part of the process, MnDOT will set up a project website and also implement an online public survey for use in the report.

    One “concern” specifically mentioned in the draft scope of services is what most consider to be the most dangerous and difficult to navigate – especially for semi tractor-trailers – downtown intersection, Robert Street and Broadway, specifically, the right turn from Robert Street into North Broadway.

    “This intersection is of particular interest to the City as well as MnDOT for close scrutiny on what gets developed,” Upgren notes.

    With Tri-Valley Opportunity Council soon moving out of its headquarters at the northeast corner of that intersection, there has been talk in recent years of potentially demolishing the building and in the future creating a right turn that that’s much easier to make.

    Looking at the bigger picture, with ADA-compliant sidewalks needing to be wider than the current brick-paver sidewalks, there is much to discuss about what becomes of motorized traffic flow on Main and Broadway, each of which currently feature three lanes of one-way traffic and parallel parking on both sides of the street. Maintaining the status quo will “likely be very difficult,” Upgren tells the Times. Although more research and data are necessary before an official number can be arrived at, he says it’s likely that the curbs will need to be moved three to four feet inward to the center line of each roadway.

    “So, that leads us to the questions: Can we keep three lanes of traffic but lose areas of parking? Can we keep parking as-is but drop a lane of traffic?” Upgren says. “These questions will be answered through the detailed analysis of the corridor study and discussed thoroughly by community stakeholders.”

Plenty of discussion    

    The Crookston Corridor Study Public Engagement plan is comprised of 10 meetings, with the first being “internal” in nature and involving the project team and City officials. The second meeting will be an open house for the entire community to familiarize everyone with what’s being proposed and what needs to happen. After that open house, the CRP will be formed and over several more discussions will play an integral role in shaping the overall scope of the 2024 project.

    Mostly, the CRP will focus on potential corridor “alternatives” that could be included with the sidewalk replacement project. The draft scope of services calls for the CRP to “develop” a minimum of three corridor alternatives that “should include solutions to the needs brought forth by the various City stakeholders.” The draft scope of services goes onto to say that “at a minimum, the alternatives should include the new sidewalk layout, boulevard, curb line locations, signal locations, lighting, traffic calming features, parking, and through-lane configurations. In addition, the alternatives must explore a bike facility option.”

    The CRP will be called upon to work through various tasks and reach milestones at its meetings, several of which include “key takeaways” for CRP members. For example, the key takeaway at the conclusion of the CRP’s first meeting is that “there are corridor issues and MnDOT is the one that must take steps to fix it.” From there, the key takeaways will predominantly focus on identifying alternatives, and as part of the process, and to coincide with a second open house and survey (both online and not in person), will be to whittle one alternative from the trio of alternatives initially identified. From that point on, the CRP will zero in on the alternatives that it thinks should be part of the sidewalk replacement project.

    The tenth meeting would involve the city council voting on the project that ends up being brought forward. The draft scope of services leaves the door open to one final public meeting prior to the vote, if council members think that’s necessary.

    Upgren stresses that the Scope of Services at this point is only in draft form. Once the City and MnDOT arrive at an agreement on the terms of the corridor study and what it will entail, the City will proceed with soliciting the services of a qualified consultant to complete it.

    “As stated before it’s important for folks to understand that no decisions have been made as to what changes, if any, will occur,” Upgren notes.

    The City, he continues, will be leading the corridor study to generally complete the following:

    • Identify the issues with the corridor.

    • Identify the desired corrective measures for the corridor.

    • Hold a council vote to approve (or disapprove) of any major changes to the corridor.