Baxter City Council members considered revisions to the 2022 Inglewood railway crossing and associated improvements project layout during a virtual workshop Tuesday, May 4.
After years of development, the project remains in the planning stages and no binding decisions have been made yet, but council members directed staff to analyze portions of the multi-faceted project including traffic numbers, feasibility, crash data, and cost estimates in order to get a clearer idea of what the city is contending with as plans move forward.
The 2022 Inglewood project would predominantly center around the relocation of the Knollwood Drive traffic signal and railroad crossing to Inglewood Drive, pavement rehabilitation on Foley Road, public utility improvements, and an improved configuration for the Forthun Road and Isle Drive intersection.
“It’s a combination of 20-plus years of planning, traffic studies and capital project implementations. I'm actually impressed with how the city has handled this,” said Peter Lemke, a project manager with Bolton & Menk, who presented on the issue Tuesday. “It’ll improve non-motorized safety and routing to the area. I think it's actually going to improve motorized safety and routing to the area.”
Outlined during Tuesday’s virtual meeting, council members mulled proposals to approve a full-depth reclamation of Highland Scenic Drive to just west of Knollwood Drive, converting the stretch of roadway into a boulevard and reducing its width from 29-and-a-half feet to 26 feet, as well as to push entranceway to Foley Road northward.
“You're not going to see any diminishment in through travel and it might do a little bit calmer traffic,” Lemke said. “Overall it does a nice job of reducing the footprint of the infrastructure that the city has to maintain.”
Lemke noted the proposal includes plans to convert the junction of Knollwood Drive, Foley Road, Fairview Road and Highway 210 into a left-turn intersection, or essentially an open access T-intersection. Lemke said the Minnesota Department of Transportation recommended a reduced-conflict intersection, or RCI and sometimes referred to as a “J-cut,” at the location for $1,640,000, but said they were aware a $278,000 open-access T-intersection would be more feasible for the city. These improvements would also include associated turn lanes, an unnamed frontage road, and realignment of nearby trails. Staffers noted there are 10 private properties that would be adjacent to the frontage road and would likely be assessed.
This recommendation, MnDOT noted in a report, is predicated on studies that indicate the current intersection could present a safety hazard for drivers. Council members Mark Cross and Zach Tabatt said they were uncomfortable with the idea of spending money without crash data to back it up and advocated for launching a study to explore the safety of the intersection.
Lemke noted the city could also revamp stretches of Isle Drive and Glory Road — a proposal that garnered support from contractors and city officials alike. Lemke noted the city could opt to put a small roundabout at the intersection of Glory Road and Isle Drive in order to alleviate traffic congestion and improve safety there. Cost estimates on that count would have to be complied, Lemke added.
Lemke noted traffic studies indicated emergency response times to south Baxter — a point of concern in prior meetings — would be minimal. Residents should expect a 23 second delay for the fire department, while a 53 second delay should be expected with police department response times during the project. North Memorial Health Ambulance, he noted, would still be able to maintain its 10-minute response time goal.
Staffers noted assessments to nearby property owners would be in line with recent assessments for similar projects like, say, the North Forestview project, up to $15,000 with an interest rate of 3% per year and all additional costs taken up by the city of Baxter.
Council member John Ward said a project of this scale, with so many moving parts and points of expenditure, needs to have public input — particularly the 10 property owners who would be involved in a reconstruction of the conjunction of Knollwood Drive, Foley Road, Fairview Road and Highway 210.
“We put this project out there,” Ward said. “We need to listen to public feedback.”
According to an April 2018 feasibility study, the project was initially 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.
Outlined in previous meetings were key areas of development in the project listed below:
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, staffers 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. Staffers 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.
In other business, the council:
Approved a two-year agreement for leaf disposal with Mike’s Tree Company LLC in the amount of $4,800 annually.
Approved the installation of “Cross Traffic Does Not Stop” signs on Isle Drive at the intersection of Glory Road. The issue of traffic/pedestrian safety had been raised as a point of discussion during the council work session Thursday, April 22, with sentiments shared by both concerned Baxter residents and council members.
Adopted a resolution supporting the completion of the Mississippi River-Brainerd Watershed plan “One Watershed, One Plan.” The Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District is collaborating with the other conservation districts and the five counties that are located within the Mississippi River-Brainerd watershed to complete a study for the entire watershed.
Approved the appointment of Malia Hermerding, Ben Krall, Taylor Shelito, Trenton Jackovich, Jackson Dwyer, Noah Rushmeyer, and Casey Dockter to seasonal park attendant at $13 to $14.25 per hour.
Accepted a $2,000 donation from Sourcewell for the purchase of a K-9 vest for the Baxter Police Department.
Approved the appointment of Jonas Ewald to the position of streets and utilities maintenance at $14.25 per hour.
Approved the appointment of Michael Karas to the seasonal position of roadside mower at $16 per hour.
Approved a permit for retail sales of fireworks for Costco between May 1, 2021, through April 30, 2022.
Approved the appointment of Economic Development Authority officials, including Brad Chapulis as executive director; Jeremy Vacinek as assistant treasurer; Kelly Steele as secretary; Mark Cross as president; Zach Tabatt as vice president; and Connie Lyscio as treasurer. Per city statute, the board is to be delegated with three members from the elected city council and three members from the city’s executive staff.
Approved a market value study of 25 properties under the EDA for a cost of $2,500, or $100 per property, to Bill Ludenia Appraisals. EDA members have expressed interest in the promotion of these properties, Chapulis noted, but the events of 2020 derailed plans to do so at that time.
Hosted a virtual public hearing regarding the continued status of tax incremental financing districts at Arbor Glenn Senior Apartments and Arbor Glenn II. No one spoke. The matter will be addressed Tuesday, May 18, at a virtual meeting of the council at 7 p.m.