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College Drive, Highland Scenic intersection drives board’s support

An animation of vehicles in a traffic bottleneck at the intersection of College Drive/College Road and County Highway 48 helped fuel Crow Wing County’s approval Tuesday of a project already given the green light by the cities of Brainerd and Baxter.

The intersection comes at the border of Brainerd and Baxter by the College Square convenience store. The city of Brainerd project — creating four lanes of traffic and roundabouts — will basically link Business Highway 371 in Brainerd and Highway 371 in Baxter. 

County commissioners voted to submit a letter supporting proposed improvements for the city of Brainerd’s College Drive project and agreed to pay a portion — $226,000 — of the intersection cost. The city of Baxter’s portion is about $98,000.

The county reported the federal funding available for the College Drive project is expected to be shared with the city of Baxter and the county, lowering the local match for the city and county costs for intersection improvements.

Tim Bray, county highway engineer, said an infusion of $2.1 million in federal money from the Area Transportation Partnership provided an opportunity to do the intersection correctly. Bray said before that what the county was being asked to accept was an interim fix. 

Bray said the county previously set aside $200,000 for the interim fix — putting in a right turn lane for northbound traffic on County Highway 48 for vehicles making a right turn toward CLC to the east.

The county’s $226,000 will leverage about $600,000, Bray said. Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said people may wonder why have a Cadillac plan. She said even if the federal money is there, people question the need to spend it.

Bray said without this change for the intersection, the plan was dangerously close to making a bottleneck the county would have had to pay for five years down the road. 

As an analogy, Nystrom said it’s like going to a car lot with enough money to buy a used car only to find you can afford a new car instead. Bray, noting money for the project is Brainerd’s, said he’d go even further to say it’s like getting the new vehicle because a neighbor has extra money and realizes your need. 

Bray said the county strongly advocated addressing the intersection with College Road and County Highway 48, also known as Highland Scenic Drive. Bray said his concern involved looking at the future needs of the corridor as a whole rather than proposing an interim fix for traffic at the intersection west of Central Lakes College. 

Bray provided commissioners with an animated look at the traffic volumes at the intersection now and predictions for 2030. 

Average daily traffic volumes on College Drive were 14,200 to 15,000 in 2008 with expectations for 28,700 west of the Mississippi River by 2030. As a comparison, Bray said the traffic county on Washington Street now through Brainerd is 25,000 vehicles.

Animations for traffic flow at the intersection showed a long line of vehicles in a standstill at the signal light with a right lane filled with vehicles both going straight and turning right. 

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.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.