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Brainerd City Council: Public weighs in on South Sixth Street reconstruction

There's no clear public favorite for the number of lanes on South Sixth Street, or Business Highway 371. Residents had a chance to weigh in on the future reconstruction project of the road at a special Brainerd City Council meeting Monday. The gr...

1608289+0324_sixthstreet_1930s.jpg
Brainerd's South Sixth Street in the 1930's.
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There's no clear public favorite for the number of lanes on South Sixth Street, or Business Highway 371.

Residents had a chance to weigh in on the future reconstruction project of the road at a special Brainerd City Council meeting Monday.

The group heard from more than a dozen people. While a slight majority spoke in favor of downsizing the road, several people said it was vital to keep the road at five lanes.

Further, emails and phone calls to public officials are still pouring in, with people speaking in favor of each option.

No decision was made Monday night. The topic will be brought back before the council at its regular meeting next Monday.

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In the meantime, City Council President Gary Scheeler urged residents to contact their council representatives to weigh in on the subject.

The options presented are a three lane, a five lane or a variation of the three lanes, incorporating a center median and on-street parking in the core business district.

The actual detailed design of each choice shouldn't be focused on right now, said Jeff Hulsether, city engineer. Rather, the council must first decide which alternative they want and pass that information on to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

Once MnDOT agrees to a design concept, a more detailed layout will be prepared and brought back before the council for municipal consent.

The options:

Two options are being proposed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT): A three lane or a five lane layout.

Three lane project scope: A 13-foot center turn lane; 12-foot driving lane; 13.8-foot pedestrian area on each side. Estimated local cost share: $2.592 million.

Five lane Project scope: A 12-foot center turn lane; 11-foot driving lanes; 9.3-foot pedestrian area on each side. Estimated local cost share: $2.532 million.

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A third alternative: A two lane roadway with a center median and left turn lanes at signalized and major intersections. A four-foot shoulder could serve as a bike lane with parking on both sides of the downtown area. It's a hybrid of a plan drafted by Charles Marohn of Strong Towns, an organization that promotes "financially strong and resilient" cities and neighborhoods.

All extra costs in constructing the parking lanes, medians and streetscaping would be up to the city to cover. Estimated local cost share: $3.298 million.

The public hearing:

Lisa Stawarski, who owns The Traveling Art Pub on South Sixth Street, said she was in favor of the three lane option.

"I feel this would offer the best for all without disrupting the safety and opportunity of a small town experience," she said.

Ed Shaw, who has an office on South Sixth Street and who worked with Marohn on the alternative plan, said sticking with five lanes would be a "terrible decision."

The traffic counts don't justify five lanes and it isn't safe, he said, adding that three or two lanes is safer.

Todd Thompson, of WW Thompson Concrete Products, said the city needs to make the best decision for 20 to 50 years into the future.

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"I strongly support five lanes," he said, noting that it was helpful for his business.

He said if there is a concern over trying to slow traffic down on the road, there should be more stop signs put in.

Sarah Haden Shaw, who lives on North Ninth Street, said she supports reduced lanes.

She said the commercial trucks do "just fine" on the three lane part of the road near downtown.

She also said the concept of on-street parking adds "so much to downtown area."

Charles Johnson, who lives on South Eighth Street, said a five lane road "seems a little much for what we're going to need."

He said the alternative plan has good ideas, but leads to downtown too much. Officials should also address the empty building fronts in South Brainerd, he said.

Eleanor Burkett, who works off of Laurel Street and is a member of the city's Walkable Bikeable Ad Hoc Committee, said she was in favor of "calming traffic."

The current design of the road pushes people quickly through town, she said, adding that it is unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Ed Menk, owner of E. L. Menk Jewelers downtown, said there were traffic stacking problems when the road was three lanes.

"Certain roads are arteries of a community," he said. "This is one."

In a letter to the council, Matt Steele, a Minneapolis resident and frequent visitor of Brainerd, said a three lane road is the right answer for a few reasons: "Three lanes is fiscally responsible, safer for everyone including motorists, more encouraging of investment, and a better framework for creating a vibrant Brainerd. All that, and you'll still have the highest levels of service for traffic."

He added, that "overbuilding" with five lanes prevents having on-street parking.

Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce president, spoke on behalf of the business community.

Kilian didn't offer a recommendation as to the number of lanes, as he's heard people in favor of each option.

But there is a "strong consensus" that the road needs to remain a commercial route, he said.

"The idea of changing the purpose of the roadway provides a lot of heartburn to folks who are dependent on that commercial route," he said.

Other business leaders, Killian said, strongly support 12-foot lanes.

He continued, the business community urged the council to keep future growth in mind, remember downtown pedestrian safety and access, and to capture a slice of tourism through aesthetic improvements.

A closer look at the project:

South Sixth Street, or Business Highway 371, is set for reconstruction in 2017.

The aging roadway of South Sixth Street was built in 1957.

Around 12,000 vehicles travel South Sixth Street every day, and it's been that way for the past 10-15 years, city staff say.

The pavement is nearing the end of its life with a ride quality index (RQI) of 2.8. Projects are set up by MnDOT when the RQI drops below 3.0.

Further, the existing sidewalks do not meet accessibility standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Under the street, the sewer and water utilities are deteriorated, and have had several breaks in recent years.

In the project, MnDOT will reconstruct the roadway, sidewalks, curbs and gutters. There will be new pedestrian access, new traffic and pedestrian signal systems and new road signs.

Parallel to that, the city will upgrade its water and sewer systems.

It will cost about $7.5 million.

See the plans online: www.dot.state.mn.us/d3/brd/

JESSIE PERRINE may be reached at jessie.perrine@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brainerdnews .

1608290+0324_sixthwork.jpg
South Sixth Street being widened in June 2001. Brainerd Dispatch file photo.

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