City green-lights study of U.S. Highway 2 corridor through downtown

Mike Christopherson

After a unanimous vote in favor by the Crookston City Council this week, the Minnesota Department of Transportation will draft a joint powers agreement that will pave the way for a comprehensive traffic study of the U.S. Highway 2 corridor on North Main and North Broadway through downtown, a study that will involve a great deal of community input and will extend into 2022, at which point a decision will be made on what the corridor through downtown will look like.

Once the study is completed, a trio of “alternatives” will have been identified that a “Community Review Panel” will discuss at length and subsequently forward a recommendation to the council for a final vote. Alternatives could include reducing the number of motorized traffic lanes on Main and Broadway from three to two, possibly adding a bicycle lane, or possibly changing the current parking layout.

Getting the sidewalks on Main and Broadway into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act is the driving force behind the study.

MnDOT has set aside $100,000 for the City to retain a consultant to conduct the corridor study. MnDOT District 2 Project Manager Matt Upgren, participating in this week’s council discussion via Zoom, said the agency is estimating that the consultant fee will be in the $100,000 range.

The City will be kicking in additional money for the study, too, however, because the council in its approval this week green-lighted the inclusion of South Main and South Broadway as well, from south of Robert Street to the two bridges on downtown’s southern edge. South Main and South Broadway are considered local streets and not part of the U.S. Highway 2 corridor, but the council, with City Administrator Amy Finch in agreement, believes it makes sense to include South Main and South Broadway in the corridor study. Finch said it could cost up to $50,000 more to include the southern portions of downtown’s two main arteries, money she said could come from budget reserves.

Assuming the council once the study is completed in 2022 approves a project at some level, the study will lead up to a 2024 project that will involve the replacement of the brick-paver sidewalks on Main and Broadway through downtown. In addition to the pavers themselves being in poor shape in certain areas, the sidewalks are not compliant with ADA. The state ADA office has set aside $4 million for the 2024 project, which Upgren has said is an unusually large amount of money to be earmarked for a stand-alone project. In addition, MnDOT has said it will kick in an additional $1.5 million. The City will have to invest significant local dollars as well if it decides around this time next year to proceed with a project.

Sidewalks on Main and Broadway that are ADA-compliant will have to be several feet wider than they are currently. That is the primary driver behind the possibility that, once the project is completed, Main and Broadway will be home to two lanes of motorized traffic, not three.

Side-streets not part of study

Acting on the recommendation of Upgren as well as Finch, the council in approving the corridor study did not include downtown’s side-streets between Main and Broadway in the study. Instead, Finch and Public Works Director Pat Kelly said that the City, for only a few thousand dollars, can as soon as this summer start making its best attempt to repair side-street sidewalks where the brick pavers are in the worst shape. The idea would be to first tackle areas where pavers are essentially crumbling into powder, Kelly said, and also immediately address “trip hazards” at some of the worst spots.

Finch said the City’s Sidewalk Improvement Fund would cover the costs of the side-street sidewalk repairs. Work would begin this summer, Kelly added, and continue each summer in the coming years, depending on where the repair needs are greatest.

Not only would including the side-streets in the study significantly boost the local share of the study’s costs, Upgren said doing so would potentially “bog down” the overall study and subsequent project by distracting from the primary issues on the table to be studied and discussed, beyond, of course, making the sidewalks ADA-compliant: Pedestrian safety downtown and the speed of motorized traffic on Main and Broadway.

Upgren has mentioned previously how unusual it is for a downtown to be anchored by two main arteries that each have three lanes of one-way traffic. During this week’s discussion, he endorsed the importance of limiting the study to those two arteries, which alone “warrant this study, the platinum package, the best analysis of your corridor that we can provide,” Upgren added.

As for the side-streets, “In our opinion, they do not warrant the level of scrutiny or intense research or analysis in regard to traffic movement, pedestrian movement or corridor functionality,” he said. “Your local engineer could probably deal with that and save you some money. Don’t get me wrong, MnDOT is not trying to punt on the side-streets, but it’s our opinion that they could be addressed with a less formal sit-down, where you can talk about ADA and you could probably learn what it takes to get that done.”

Upgren called the study, its findings and what the Community Review Panel recommends to the council a “pretty monumental task” that will result in “not everyone being happy.”

“The issues MnDOT has heard involve pedestrian safety and motorist speed,” he said. “We want to get to a point of having a solution that addresses those issues.”

Finch indicated that the council can hold further upcoming discussions about the details involved with addressing the most urgent sidewalk needs on downtown’s side-streets.