Retooling Excelsior road
BAXTER — In the not too distant future, one of the most steadily traveled streets seamlessly linking Brainerd and Baxter will change.
Just how the newly envisioned Excelsior Road will look and how much it all may cost may still change. The Baxter City Council recently talked not only about the need to upgrade the deteriorating roadbed, but about demands from additional senior housing nearby, bicycle and pedestrian travel, street lights and, yes, another roundabout.
Considerations also included the wetlands the road cut through years ago and weighed road designs with how much of the wetlands to fill in with dirt.
Right now the two-lane street curves behind the Westgate Mall past SuperOne Foods and on to intersect with Highway 371. For motorists Excelsior is a smooth continuation from Jackson Street, which connects to Riverside Drive/Northwest Fourth Street in Brainerd.
As Brainerd ends, the street turns into Excelsior Road in mid-block as the city jurisdictions change behind the Westgate Mall.
New wrinkles include additional development with more senior housing expected at the former golf course and additions to Arbor Glen/Autumn Glenn.
Current design plans call for a three-lane road with center left turn lane and reconstructing Excelsior Road from Cypress Drive to Baxter Drive in 2015.
Trevor Walter, Baxter public works director, noted Brainerd also plans to upgrade Jackson Street in 2015 creating an opportunity to link the projects with a single construction management. That option had Baxter council members thinking they might move up work on Excelsior Road not intended until 2016. Perhaps, they said, it could work to do the entire roadway in one year instead of causing disruption with construction during two summers. But that could hinge on whether changes should be made to the congested and often-backed up four-way stop at Excelsior and Golf Course Drive.
Council member Jim Klein asked about the traffic issues at Golf Course Drive and Excelsior. Walter said it’s been some time since the intersection was studied.
Mayor Darrel Olson said intersection use will likely change once the signal light is moved from Golf Course Drive and Highway 210 farther east to the new Cypress Drive intersection. More travelers may also choose to use Cypress to go north rather than use Golf Course Drive. Cypress Drive is slated for an extension across the railroad tracks and Highway 210 to intersect with Excelsior Drive in 2018.
Walter said the city could slow down and restudy intersection traffic but council members wondered if the road would last another year and if they would miss too much of an opportunity to link the construction work with Brainerd.
Olson said there could be advantages to waiting or a study may find nothing is needed.
The most immediate street work is planned on Excelsior’s east side. Walter said the curve will be softened a bit and 12-foot driving lanes will come with paved shoulders and right and left turn lanes into the apartments and at Conservation Drive.
Street lighting was planned at the intersections. Plans are for a rural road design without curb and gutter. Walter said the rural road is also easier to maintain. Adding curb and gutter, Walter said, adds significantly to the project cost and means filling in more wetlands.
Initial recommendations were not to encourage bike and pedestrian travel on the road but to use Fairview, the frontage street off Highway 210, and links to connect people to the Northland Arboretum.
Council member Todd Holman said whether the city wants people to use that route or not, they will. As a bicyclist, Holman said he would choose to ride the lower traffic street as long as it had a good paved shoulder.
Holman said he was sensitive to the plan already being approved but he had a number of suggestions for additions, changes or considerations. If not an opportunity to overhaul the plan at this point, Holman said it was a chance to talk about things to consider and possibly make changes in 2016.
Holman said the Excelsior/Jackson corridor is parallel to Highway 210 and suggested it have more lighting and an urban design of curb and gutter. Curbing, he said, add to the visual barrier to help people maintain car space. More lighting along the route also illuminates the fog line consistently, another visual barrier, Holman said.
CYPRESS DRIVE ROUNDABOUT AND MORE LIGHTING
With age increasing in the area, more senior housing coming and Arbor Glen representing one of the city’s most dense population areas, Holman said he thought the city should pay the extra and at least add more lighting to make it safer. There wasn’t consensus as to whether the entire length of the street needed to be lit or whether the intersections would be enough noting the future roundabout will also be well-lit.
With the anticipated work on Excelsior next year, the ground work will be laid for the future roundabout.
A roundabout is planned at the intersection of Cypress Drive and Excelsior near SuperOne Foods, but it won’t be constructed next year. Once installed, traffic moving west will flow beneath the Paul Bunyan State Trail Bridge and then into the roundabout.
Walter noted if the 2016 construction work for the other western part of Excelsior also needs 6-foot paved shoulders, the city will need to purchase more right-of-way, changing the cost expectations. Dramatic changes on the more densely packed commercial sections of Excelsior would be difficult. But Walter said there may be options to provide a 4-foot paved shoulder there.
Holman suggested adding flashing lights to a pedestrian intersection at Excelsior and Conservation Drive, which links the Northland Arboretum with amenities such as the movie theater and restaurants and shopping.
There probably won’t be enough incoming traffic to create a second roundabout at Conservation Drive. Holman said there are other options to make the pedestrian crossing there stand out to drivers including using colored concrete.
Josh Doty, community development director, said discussion with the comprehensive plan update has included the anticipated senior development at the former golf course.
Doty said a trail link across the golf course to the Paul Bunyan State Trail and along Golf Course Drive is desired to create a more complete trail system. That, Doty said, would also provide more accessibility to the commercial district bordering Highway 371.
Council member Rob Moser was in favor of more street lights and wanted to at least determine the added cost. Klein said he didn’t think a light was needed at every block beyond the intersections. Walter said the city could do a cost benefit analysis of the flashing pedestrian crossing sign but if it could save someone’s life it would be worth it. Klein said it depends on who the person is, saying such cost analysis is done all the time. After the meeting he said he was sort of kidding when it came to that remark.
Moser said an alternate bid could include additional items. Olson wanted to drive the route again before making a decision.
Studies indicate the average daily traffic count along Excelsior Road could be 13,300 vehicles by 2025. In little more than a decade, Cypress Drive may have 16,500 vehicles a day.