By Louis Hoglund
Concerns with the street plan were brought to the Pelican Rapids City Council meeting August 31.
Roundabouts, driving lane widths, loss of parking, and concerns about a prolonged, two-summer construction span topped the list of issues.
A group of business owners addressed the council, and also presented a petition and counter-proposal to the massive 2024 Highways 108 and 59 reconstruction.
The agreements were evidently convincing enough for the council to vote 4-1 to forward them to MnDOT engineers.
Councilman Steve Strand made the motion, calling for the city to endorse the recommendations. Councilman Curt Markgraf seconded the motion. The lone “no” vote came from Pelican councilman Steve Foster.
More than 100 signatures were collected, calling on the Minnesota Department of Transportation to maintain the present curb-to-curb width in the downtown business district.
Further, the group called for no net loss of parking stalls; retaining the stoplight intersections—with no roundabouts.
The group also pled with the city and MnDOT to limit the construction to one season. Downtown merchants are concerned about the impact on business if the project spans two summers.
Leading the presentation before the council were Rick Westby, a retired businessman, and Matt Strand, owner of Strand Ace Hardware. The presentation was well prepared, with a full list of 104 signators. Also included was an illustration of a curb-to-curb layout favored by the group.
A critic of the street plans, Westby helped lead the petition campaign. Among other issues, Westby calculated that each parking stall represents about $100,000 in annual business. Also, Westby favored stoplights as “controlled intersections rather than confused intersections.”
Strand conducted much of the research that went into the presentation. (The prepared text from the business group accompanies this article.)
Commenting on his “no” vote, Councilman Steve Foster said that he generally supported the MnDOT plan for downtown lanes, roundabouts, and bike lanes.
The plan favored by most of the businesses and signers of the petition calls for a bicycle lane next to the motorist lane.
Foster noted that, at the time of the Highway 108-59 planning meetings, the public preferred a bike lane that was separated from the moving traffic.
“Safety is one of the big concerns,” said Foster, following the vote at the meeting. He also favored the so-called “bump outs” that allow pedestrians to move out to cross the street. He also favors safety lights that pedestrians can activate to walk across.
One of the issues posed by Matt Strand is the construction, which is expected to span two construction seasons, 2024-25.
“Catastrophic” is how Matt Strand described the impact on business with a two-year construction phase.
“Especially for the foodservice businesses, which have already suffered through the pandemic,” said Matt Strand.
Still two years away from construction, there are many details pending. But MnDOT has stated in the past that the prospect of two construction seasons is necessitated, in large part, on the city’s underground utility upgrades which are part of the project.
According to Don Solga, city administrator, the likely schedule is for construction of the 59 corridor the first year, which includes the downtown business district. The focus of the second year will be on Highways 108 east and west.
“Mother nature may also have something to say about it,” said Solga, as the weather can severely impact a project of this size and scope.
Pedestrian access to businesses is expected to be available at virtually all times.
Meanwhile, plans for detours will also be formalized. The main intent will be to establish detours aimed at “pass-through” truck traffic. Localized vehicle and delivery traffic is expected to continue through the construction, though limited at times and down to one lane.
Roundabouts continue to be a source of discontent, not only in the business community but the public as a whole. Matt Strand contends that a signal-light intersection is the safest for pedestrians and children—and he quoted at least one study that supported his argument.
It is uncertain what impact the petition will have on MnDOT. Roundabouts have been MnDOT’s preference—whenever possible. MnDOT contends the roundabouts are safer, as far as injury accidents. Also, stoplights are expensive equipment, and the installation is much costlier than construction roundabouts.
The roundabout proposal has perhaps been the most visible and discussed component of the MnDOT plan. But the opposition also centers on narrower parking lanes, and the loss of up to 14 parking stalls in all four directions from the stoplights.
Business group’s concerns with Hwy 59-108 project reprinted
Issues include driving lanes, stoplights, project duration
Editor’s note: The following text is the information presented at the August 31 city council meeting. The text is printed here, with some editing. The text also refers to the accompanying illustration showing the layout preferred by many in the business community.
The following information will be forwarded to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, following a 4-1 vote by the city council on August 31
* * * * * * *
We have identified three issues that need to be worked out with MNDOT:
1) Lane layout / width / parking
2) 59/108 intersections (i.e. Stoplights or Roundabouts)
3) Project Duration (one year vs two)
Issue 1 – Lane layout / width / parking
The go forward street layout will need to maintain current parking volume and oversize load utility while enabling new bike facilities to satisfy the complete street requirements.
The illustration (accompanying this text) was an alternate option presented in the Complete Streets Report. In this layout, curb to curb width is roughly maintained at the current width and the layout of driving lanes and parking remains nearly unchanged from the current layout. The only modification proposed is to widen parking to 10’ by removing the inner most 2’ buffer from the bike lane. This will still leave 7’ total for the bike lane with nicely sized parking and driving lanes on either side.
With this layout, curb to curb width remains unchanged (10’), no longer stepping out into vehicle traffic (very common negative feedback during MNDOT demo). This layout also provides adequate width for max size (16’) oversize loads.
In addition, this layout can be tested today with some minor striping adjustments. This layout will also reduce maintenance burden because heavy equipment can clear snow / sweep a larger portion of the street.
Issue 2 – 59/108 intersections
We propose to keep the current stoplight intersection layout for the following reasons:
– Oversize load concerns: while the loads will physically fit in a static setting, the addition of traffic and other factors make roundabouts not desirable to the oversize load community
– Light protected crossing for vulnerable populations: The light protected crossings are the best option for children, elderly, vision impaired, and intellectually disabled individuals. The ability to press a button and receive a definitive green light to cross is necessary for these groups who may have challenges otherwise identifying when it is safe to cross. In addition, the audio and tactile aids are critical for vision impaired individuals to safely cross.
– Safety: While roundabouts have demonstrated to reduce fatality and injury crashes, the safety gains which could be potentially realized in Pelican Rapids are very minimal due to the two intersections already being extremely safe relative to similar intersections in the state. (Note accident statistics accompanying this text from the business group.) Beyond this, roundabouts in many instances cause an increase in property damage only accidents. To summarize, Pelican Rapids is unlikely to receive significant safety gains due to the already high level of safety, we are however likely to fully realize the increase in property damage only accidents.
– Streamlining of bike paths: Light controlled intersections provide a less convoluted path for cyclists than roundabouts and mitigate potential confusion / hazards for bicycles and vehicles traversing the intersection in parallel. In addition, using the offset crossings pedestrian crossings is not desirable to many cyclists due to the required stop and the jog left/right of the offset.
Issue 3 – Project Duration
Two consecutive years of summer season construction will likely cause significant negative consequences to the businesses of Pelican Rapids. It is in everyone’s interest to keep the project duration to one year if possible. The Pelican Rapids City Council will request MNDOT conduct a full critical path analysis of the proposed project. This analysis can be used to identify construction elements which increase duration, and we can then take steps accordingly to mitigate duration creep.
Accident injury history, Pelican Rapids intersections
Highway 59 / Highway 108 East (2010-2020)
• Minor injury: 1
• Possible injury: 3
• Property damage only : 9
Highway 59 / Highway 108 West (2010-2020)
• Possible injury: 2
• Property damage only: 6
Public info meeting on Hwy. 59, 108 eyed for Sept. 30
The Pelican Rapids High School Fine Arts Auditorium will be the location for a public information meeting on the Highway 108, 59 reconstruction project.
The meeting is Sept. 30, and tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m., though details are still pending.
The Pelican school administration is asking that all the attendees observe COVID-19 precautions. Masks are strongly recommended. The size of the auditorium facility will enable more social distancing.