Plans, estimates submitted as city seeks $700,000 transportation grant
to aid local share of Hwy 59,108 costs
A streetscape that could transform Pelican Rapids for a century is beginning to take a more tangible shape.
Advanced planning for the scheduled 2024 Highways 108 and 59 reconstruction continued at the Nov. 26 Pelican Rapids City Council meeting.
After months of community input meetings, where the public was invited to share ideas on paths, sidewalks and landscaping, the “rubber is beginning to meet the road” as far as potential costs and preliminary designs.
Facing a deadline for up to $700,000 in Transportation Alternative Grants, city officials and city engineer Bob Schliemann ran numbers on pedestrian-related improvements that could extend in all four directions of the city.
The TA grant would supplement the improvements MnDOT will pay for, related to the Highways 59 and 108 projects.
“We’re going to shoot for the moon,” said Schliemann, and seek the entire $700,000, which would be scheduled for year 2024. The process is competitive, so Pelican could receive all–or just part–of the request.
There will be a cost to local taxpayers, however. And for the first time, those estimates came into focus.
Nine separate “areas” were identified for paths and sidewalks. MnDOT’s share of the costs will be in the multi-millions–beyond the reconstruction of the highways themselves. But locally, Pelican taxpayers could face about $2.34 million for the array of proposed pedestrian improvements. At this point, it is too early to speculate on how the construction debt will be repaid–but because the improvements can be defined as benefitting the entire tax base, it will likely be a combination of bonding, city-wide levy and assessments to individual property owners.
The difficulty in estimating and applying for the TA grant is the timeline, explained Schliemann. “We’re trying to project four years out…so unanswered questions remain,” said Schliemann.
And those questions plague several Pelican Rapids City Council members, who have been publicly skeptical of the planning process.
Councilman Kevin Ballard echoed previous concerns–that the city is slowly being manipulated on designs and costs–especially in the one-block commercial downtown district.
Ballard cautioned that, by submitting the application for the TA grant, the city will commit itself to designs that are not favored by all of the city’s constituents and property owners.
“It seems like the decision is being made for us,” said Ballard.
Councilman Steve Foster also expressed reservations, questioning if the grant application “locks” the city in on specific plans and specifications.
The downtown commercial district has been the most scrutinized area of the entire “Complete Streets” planning.
Several council members have been skeptical of narrower driving lanes through downtown. Foster, and others, have raised issues with turning lanes at the main commercial intersections–particularly for trucks and heavier vehicles and equipment.
Based on the preliminary design, downtown sidewalk and streetscaping would extend to 18 feet on each side. this includes a 4 foot zone right next to business buildings; 10 foot “shared use path,” and a 4 foot boulevard. This concept was a compromise position, which widened the motor lane to 12 feet, and the parking lane to 10 feet (an increase from MnDOT standards of 11 and 9 feet.) The “shared use” sidewalk was also a compromise, from earlier plans for a designated bike path in the downtown district.
Schliemann, and city administrator Don Solga, both contended that the design plan is very broad and general–aimed at providing enough information and cost factors to submit a reasonable application by the Jan. 3 deadline.
“Keep in mind, many details may change when we get to the specific design stages,” said Solga.
Ultimately, noted Schliemann, MnDOT will have the final word of driving and turn lanes. “It is their corridor,” said Schliemann.
Councilman Ballard predicted that, at some point, MnDOT will “pull the wool over our eyes” and insist on designs many constituents don’t want.