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Baxter OKs its part of College Drive project

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BAXTER - Baxter is on board with redesigning the intersection of College Road and Crow Wing County Road 48 as part of Brainerd's overall project to reconstruct College Drive.

At a special meeting Wednesday, the Baxter City Council unanimously gave approval to expanding the intersection of County Road 48 and College Road/College Drive.

The expansion will include widening lanes; one through, one left turn and one right turn lane northbound and southbound on Crow Wing County Road 48; two through, one left turn and one right turn lane eastbound on College Road; and one through, a combined through/right turn lane and two left turn lanes westbound on College Drive; a new signal system; and storm water improvements.

The motion approving Baxter's portion of the project included maintaining accesses for the College Square convenience store with left turn ins only on College Road and a full access on County Road 48.

The estimated cost of the option is $1,087,000 and would be paid for using $736,000 in federal funds, $256,000 from Crow Wing County and $108,500 from Baxter. Of Baxter's total, state aid funds would be used to cover $98,500.

"We believe it's feasible for city to proceed with the project at this time," city Finance Director Jeremy Vacinek said.

Ron Bray, project manager with WSB, the engineering firm hired by Brainerd for the project, addressed concerns from Baxter's Utilities Commission about why Baxter and Crow Wing County were approached so late in the planning

 for College Drive reconstruction. Bray said that the Brainerd City Council had scaled back the project in March of 2010 and when it was learned in October that an additional $2.1 million in federal funds were available for the project. That's when the project management team proposed several alternatives to use the funds, including reconstruction of the College Road/County Road 48 intersection.

A scaled back project couldn't utilize the additional federal funds, which brought the total federal funds for the proposed $8.4 million project to $4,334,300

"We've been working furiously to take advantage of those additional funds and keep them in the community for that project," Bray said.

The benefits to Baxter's participation, according to WSB, included 80 percent of the construction costs being paid through federal dollars; the project addresses future traffic needs; and the project, though perhaps on a lesser scale, was already part of Crow Wing County's five-year plan.

Council member Jim Klein questioned whether the city of Baxter can drop out of the project if the bids come back over budget.

"My concern is money's tight, we ain't got none," Klein said. "We've got a lot of projects and I've never seen a building project come in under budget yet. There's always add-ons. ... At what point can we pull the pin on this and say, 'No.'"

Council member Todd Holman countered that with approval of the idea Baxter needs to be a team player in the project.

"This is three units of government, this is a big deal," Holman said. "I think if there are cost overruns for our portion there'll probably be overruns for others, and those questions will have to be answered at the same time."

Holman also said the city would be signing an agreement with Brainerd to defer authority to them. Public Works Director Trevor Walter said if there's 10 percent or more cost overrun on the project Brainerd would probably also have some concerns.

Brainerd's portion of the project includes four lanes from Crow Wing County Road 48 to South Fourth Street; roundabouts at Mississippi River Parkway, Southwest Fourth Street and South Fourth Street; a stop light at Quince and South Fifth streets; trails; sidewalks; bridge improvements; pedestrian crosswalks, flashers and deterrents; and a backage road to accommodate the apartment buildings.

Project work is expected to begin in the fall of 2011. A majority of the construction, with the most impact on traffic, is expected to be in 2012. Completion is tentatively set for November of 2012.

MATT ERICKSON may be reached at or 855-5857.