BAXTER — The Baxter City Council is haggling over the possibility of establishing a new roadway corridor to ease traffic congestion and create a new route for local drivers to access local businesses, health care services, East Gull Lake and other stretches of the Brainerd lakes area.
During a work session Tuesday, staffers briefed the council on the current status of the 2021 Inglewood Drive railway crossing and Foley Road improvement project. According to an April 2018, feasibility study, the project looks to revamp stretches, and particularly stretches of Inglewood Drive and Foley Road, and is estimated to cost $5,542,270 — though, that figure may change with another feasibility study. The next study is set to be conducted this summer by engineering-architectural firm Bolton & Menk, which has been contracted by the city to provide analysis and engineering services with the project in the amount of $491,505
City Administrator Brad Chapulis and Public Works Director Trevor Walter described the project as an “alternative corridor” with some similarities to the recently completed Cypress Drive corridor that would enable local motorists to better access businesses along Highway 371 and reduce traffic congestion on the area’s thoroughfares.
Also like the Cypress Drive corridor, Walter noted there have been efforts to establish the property easements, roadwork layout and infrastructure for the better part of 20 years to see this project come to fruition.
Walter said the project will address three primary areas:
Reconstructing the entirety of Foley Road from County Highway 48 (also known as Highland Scenic Road) to the intersection of Forthun Road and Foley Road — which, Walter noted, includes establishing subterranean water and sewer infrastructure for properties by Perch Lake.
Moving the signal lights and railroad crossing from its current position at Knollwood and Highway 210 to the intersection of Inglewood Drive and Highway 210. Walter noted this would be, by far, the most significant and costly share of the project.
The project would also entail a reconstruction of the intersection of Isle Drive and Forthun Road, which is currently a T-intersection, to reshape it into a continuous route, reconfiguring to be a backage road, and thereby reduce traffic on Elder Drive, particularly at Elder Drive and Foley Road.
Walter said the plan is to hopefully break ground in May 2021 — a fast turnaround, he said, especially for a project that involves railroad crossings, which involve an extensively supervised approval process.
“Two things that are critical in this project is that we’re on a tight deadline, because of the railroad. This is not an easy project to accomplish in one year in terms of approvals,” said Walter, who noted the city had been meeting with BNSF Railway and Minnesota Department of Transportation officials. “There’s also the funding components tied to this.”
Walter said there’s roughly $800,000 on hand in federal funding for the new railroad crossing, as well as $1.1 million in MnDOT highway funds in local initiative money. He added the city would have to look at an array of funding sources, not the least of which would be a portion of the statewide bonding bill being hashed out in the Minnesota Legislature.
With the short time frame and funding complications in mind, council member Mark Cross asked if the project could be postponed for a year and whether that would affect fund sources. Walter responded that federal funding may be lost, but that the MnDOT commitment would likely remain viable — though that would have to be determined during meetings with officials. Cross encouraged staffers to look into that option.
That being said, Walter noted the size of the initiative, coupled with a baseline of 20% in assessment funding and a dearth of accessible properties in some portions of the project, mean it will likely see some downsizing in the developmental phases.
“We have concerns that … we're going to be hurting on the 20% assessment portion of it in order for us to bond with the project,” Walter said. “You have to have 20% assessable on total project costs, in order for the city to bond more and get our share of costs upfront. We believe that we may be pulling out a portion of the project so that the 20% assessments are possible. I think that will show up in the feasibility study.”
That portion, Walter said, would likely be the Forthun Road and Isle Drive curve, of which large portions lack properties with accessible assets and represent a steep cost for the city of Baxter as a whole, depending on what conclusions the feasibility study presents.