Strategic Planning: More information, city’s cost sought for MnDOT downtown corridor study

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    The Crookston City Council requested more information from City Administrator Amy Finch about the proposed downtown corridor study with Minnesota Department of Transportation after additional questions arose during their second Strategic Planning Session last week. The main inquiry was what the cost will be to include city-owned streets and blocks in the study that aren’t part of MnDOT’s U.S. Highway 2 concentrated area. Some council members thought it made sense to include city-owned streets in the study so they could address those areas at a later time if overall reconstruction costs are out of their budget comfort zone. They also want to know what the cost difference will be for the corridor study with or without the city-owned streets. That’s where Finch will step in to gather more info and possibly bring back MnDOT Project Manager Matt Upgren for additional discussion.

    Finch provided the Council with the MnDOT downtown sidewalk study from 2020 plus 2018’s walk-through with a consultant was also mentioned by Ward 2 Council Member Steve Erickson. Erickson recalled the consultant mentioning how difficult it would be to navigate through downtown with a wheelchair and said there was “nothing political about it but how bad these streets are.”

    Ward 1 Council Member Kristie Jerde asked if they decided not to move forward with the reconstruction of the sidewalks if there would be an ADA issue that the city could be liable for and was told by City Attorney Corky Reynolds that the city is considered “grandfathered in” after meeting the standards at the time the pavers were installed and if they were altered, such as replacing the pavers with concrete, they would not be compliant.

    Ward 3 Council Member Clayton Briggs asked if Loring Street, Fletcher Street, Robert Street and other streets to the Main and Broadway bridges would be included if the city opted to cut down traffic lanes from three lanes to two lanes downtown, and was told by Mayor Dale Stainbrook that the study would be preliminary and they’d have options to consider for three lanes of traffic, two lanes, two lanes and a bike lane, or not to do the project at all if that’s what the Council decides. Finch added that the study would produce those answers.

    “If we accept the $100,000 from MnDOT (for the corridor study) and hire a consultant that would allow for three alternatives and you would have information for the 2024 option,” she explained. “We could phase in later even if you include city blocks in the study.”

    Erickson suggested they include the streets where businesses reside all the way to the bridges for the study, “do the whole thing,” and At-Large Council Member Wayne Melbye wondered about an “a la carte” option of finding out how much it would cost to include each street or block or to leave some out with Ward 6 Council Member Dylane Klatt agreeing. Finch mentioned Public Works Director Pat Kelly’s suggestion of including what they could in the study so the city would have information for the future which reminded Erickson of a conversation with Kelly where they were told that the decking of the Main and Broadway bridges may need work in a couple years which could result in a “phenomenal amount of money.”

    “If you’re going to do all the way from bridge to bridge, go northbound the same way, include the bridges if we’re going to do bonding or we’ll have to look at that down the road,” Erickson suggested.

    Finch said she would reach out to Kelly and, perhaps, add his name to an upcoming agenda where they could get an overview of the whole project and his five to seven year plan for downtown.

PROJECT FUNDS AND MORE INFO

    MnDOT has provided a draft scope that outlines the community engagement process, timeline of meetings and joint powers agreement with hopes of coming to an agreement with the City some time this month. Once the study is complete, if the city decides to move forward with the sidewalk and street reconstruction that is proposed for 2024, there would be a pool of funds available from Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that might not be there in the future should the city opt out of the project. The ADA funds, around $4 million, are earmarked for a “stand-alone” project like the one proposed for 2024 by the State of Minnesota to make Crookston’s sidewalks along the U.S. Highway 2 corridor downtown ADA-complaint.

    MnDOT has also set aside approximately $1.5 million for the proposed Crookston project totaling $5.5 million in outside funding available. Upgren told the Times in February he expects the City’s share to be in the $1 million range, but stressed any dollar figures are “very early estimates.” Should the city opt out of the 2024 sidewalk replacement project, one of the only things that might happen would be replacement of traffic signals along the downtown corridor that are near the end of their life, Upgren told the Council at a February meeting, adding that it might be another 15 to 20 years before the State allocated any funds for any major paving work in downtown Crookston.