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Baxter City Council: Weather delays worry businesses

A road closed sign sits near the intersection of Excelsior Road and Forest Drive in Baxter as work continues on the Excelsior and Edgewood street projects. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch 1 / 3
Baxter officials prepare for the May 15 meeting to start with council members Quinn Nystrom (left), Steve Barrows, Todd Holman, Mark Cross, City Administrator Brad Chapulis and Assistant City Administrator Kelly Steele. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 3
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BAXTER—The late spring is pushing street projects back and that includes Baxter's projects by its commercial and residential area along Excelsior Road.

"The weather and the frozen ground really set us back," said Chuck Rickart, principal with WSB and Associates at the Baxter City Council meeting Tuesday, May 15. "We thought we were going to be ahead of the game."

Rickart said they were moving earth early by Brenny's Funeral Chapel and then came additional snow and cold this spring.

"It really delayed us," Rickart said. "We are probably about a month behind from where we should be."

Rickart provided an update on the project to date and what motorists can expect going to high-traffic summer holidays. At issue is the well-traveled Excelsior Road and the frontage road Edgewood Drive, which leads to businesses like Cub Foods on the west side of Highway 371. Currently construction work is in progress on Excelsior between the Brenny Funeral Chapel and Forest Drive.

Excelsior is closed to through traffic, although Rickart said drivers are sneaking through. But at some point they will not be able to do that when the project gets into the underground work. Access will be maintained to residents and businesses. A signed detour for through traffic uses Excelsior Road west of the construction area, Inglewood Drive, Highway 210 and Highway 371.

"Over the past several weeks, we've been having discussions with business owners, specifically Cub and Boomer Pizza and Holiday," Rickart said of the businesses at the Edgewood and Excelsior intersection. "We had a meeting with them once we knew we were going to get delayed."

Of major concern was access for the Memorial Day weekend, summer season and Fourth of July. With the late frost playing havoc on original plans, the effort now has crews working on the section from Brenny's to Forest Drive, which will be closed until the week before Memorial Day then it will be open with gravel street surfaces. For the Memorial Day weekend, Rickart said everything will be open even if on gravel surfaces.

The Tuesday after Memorial Day, the section of Excelsior Road, from Highway 371 to Edgewood, will close, Rickart said. Edgewood will still be open to the west, but the access from Highway 371 will be closed. Dewatering for the project to lower the groundwater is expected to take extra time, Rickart said. The goal is to have dewatering done by the end of June before the Fourth of July weekend.

The Thursday before the Fourth of July week everything will open again, on gravel surface much of it, but all will be open for the week of the Fourth, Rickart said. Then the Monday following the Independence Day holiday, work is expected to resume from Edgewood to Brenny's and construction will start on the main part of the roundabout going in there.

"We try to avoid those holidays as best we can," Rickart said, noting the businesses. "They are still concerned that we're hitting the summer months with some these closures."

For businesses, the obvious concerns come with not getting the revenue from seasonal recreation traffic and the population boost that comes with a lakes area summer.

"We are going to impact someone," Rickart said. "We tried to make it the least impactful as we could."

Signs will be added to alleviate confusion in the work zone and to note the businesses inside. With traffic flowing along Edgewood to Woida Road, north of the construction area, Rickart said an intersection that is already an issue will become more of one with the added vehicles. As an answer, a three-way stop is proposed at Edgewood and Woida. Inbound traffic coming from Highway 371 will continue through but the stop sign will create a pause for turning traffic.

After Memorial Day, Rickart said detoured traffic raised an issue about the three-quarter intersection by Cub Foods, especially on Sundays and the potential for traffic to backup there, blocking the intersection. While the Minnesota Department of Transportation will not allow a traffic control there, an added sign not to block the intersection will be added.

Rickart estimated there will be an additional $5,000 for the project with the signs and adding specific signs to direct motorists to business access at Design Drive when the Highway 371 access is closed to Edgewood. The plan is to redirect those drivers to use the access at Design Drive.

"I think it's important if we are going to inconvenience people with road closures or detours that we have clear signing," said council member Quinn Nystrom.

Nystrom said she was driving on Park Street in Brainerd and the signs were confusing to the point someone had duct-taped a cardboard sign with black marker onto the road construction sign to add clarity.

Nystrom said she thought it was important for Baxter to communicate clearly and professionally instead of duct-taping cardboard on a road construction sign.

"I think it's important we have a clear game plan on the front end," Nystrom said.

Rickart urged the council to let them know if there is anything confusing or in need of greater clarity. He noted that kind of observation went into the plan to add signs to let drivers using Cub Foods and other businesses they still have options to use Excelsior to the west.

Vice Mayor Todd Holman presided at Tuesday's meeting for Mayor Darrel Olson, who was absent due to recent surgery. Holman said the entire council appreciated Rickart's efforts to connect with the businesses.

Holman asked when the stormwater lift station and pipe will go in. Rickart said with the phased construction it will happen in sections and be connected later in July. Holman wondered what would happen if there is a 500-year rain event.

Rickart pointed to the efforts to drain the area during construction as being able to handle it. He said dewatering between Brenny and Forest Drive lowered the groundwater 6-7 feet quickly and then really slow after that. There is a section by the Holiday gas station that will need to be lowered by almost 12 feet. So we'll be doing a lot of dewatering, Rickart said.