BAXTER — Green boulevards, a challenging intersection by Costco and Home Depot and Baxter’s vision for an alternative route for the city, had several residents raising concerns the changes were coming at the expense of their quiet neighborhood.
The Baxter City Council had two public hearings Oct. 7 to get feedback on two street projects that are connected. Residents presented repeated objections to the plan during a two-hour session with the council.
Moving the railroad crossing and signal intersection from Knollwood Drive to Inglewood Drive was the subject of the first session. While some residents felt the action was moving too quickly, the proposal to shift both the railway crossing and the intersection has been talked about for decades and repeatedly in recent years as the city negotiated with BNSF railway regarding the crossing.
In outlining the project, Bryan Drown, project engineer with Bolton & Menk, said relocating the signal light intersection has been talked about in traffic studies for 20 years, recommended in a 2002 study and again in 2010.
Currently, Inglewood Drive ends at Highway 210 with its connection to the service drive of Fairview Road.
The proposal would extend Inglewood across Highway 210, the main east/west artery in Baxter, and connect Inglewood with Foley Road. The connection would create an alternative north/south route through the city giving motorists an option beside Highway 371. An Inglewood connection would be more complete than the long-anticipated Cypress Drive alternative route the city worked to create just two years ago. With the Cypress Drive crossing of Highway 210 to the east close to Brainerd, the Inglewood Drive crossing would continue the beltway idea to the west of Highway 371.
Mayor Darrel Olson said the goal was to provide a way for residents to get off the busy highways for their own safety and make alternative traffic routes.
Gary Scheeler, who owns property on Forthun Road and is a former Brainerd council member, addressed the council on areawide assessments asking the city to take another look at who was being assessed and who wasn’t. When he first approached the speaker’s podium he said the Baxter council must be like the Supreme Court with lifetime members.
Long-time council member Mark Cross responded: “They must like us Gary because they keep reelecting us.”
Foley, Isle and Forthun
Along with a new Inglewood Drive extension and railway crossing, work is planned on Foley Road, Isle Drive and Forthun Road. With a rating of 10 for a brand new street, Drown noted Foley Road has one of the lower rated pavement conditions in the city, with a rating of 3. The plan calls for a 5-foot grass buffer between the trail and the roadway. The current trail abuts the road without a buffer.
About 16 people attended the hearing.
Nicholette Sibbert, Foley Road, said it was disheartening to have a new septic system and now have all these additional charges. Residents would have five years to hook up and could continue to use their wells to water their yards and gardens and have one tap water faucet. Several suggested the green boulevard was a nicety and an expenditure that wasn’t needed or something that could be reduced with money saved going into fixing the much-maligned intersection at Foley Road and Elder Drive.
Any work on the road triggers the Americans with Disabilities Act. The existing trail doesn’t meet ADA requirements for sloping making it better for wheelchair use, which the boulevard would rectify.
One of the people critical of the boulevard suggested the engineers should have led with that fact instead of explaining it in more detail later in the meeting.
Trevor Thompson, assistant city engineer for Baxter, said the boulevard also helps with drainage and provides room where street signs are more visible for motorists.
Joseph Erickson, area resident, said city water and sewer have been anticipated for some time. But Erickson was critical of moving traffic from the nearby commercial area and putting more pressure and traffic on Foley Road with the city’s proposal. He likened it to turning the residential drive into another Highway 210. Erickson said the plan does nothing to resolve the cluster that is the area’s biggest traffic problem at the intersection of Foley and Elder.
“I think you are putting the cart before the horse here,” Erickson said.
Several people suggested a roundabout at Foley Road and Elder Drive would be better. Cross and the engineers noted with it so close to the railway crossing and Highway 210, stopping traffic there instead of a flow through could mean backing up traffic into the highway.
Erickson and others questioned the reasoning behind putting a mini-roundabout at Isle and Forthun citing the lack of traffic there. The mini-roundabout would not have a landscaped center but would be entirely drivable, replacing the T-intersection with a curve. Aaron Warford, project engineer with Bolton & Menk, said the mini-roundabout slows drivers and serves all more evenly with a cost not much more than a T-intersection.
Engineers talked about the benefits of a narrower Foley Road in terms of slowing traffic and for maintenance costs, calling it a road diet. Council member Zach Tabatt suggested more data from the research behind those conclusions in the reports may help as residents look at the details.
As for the Foley Road and Elder Drive intersection, changes to traffic flow at the intersection followed two fatalities there.
Warford said the configuration at the Foley and Elder intersection right now is as good as it’s going to get and the next step with the Minnesota Department of Transportation will be to close it. When the council was questioned as to what it was planning on doing should that intersection be closed, Olson said that is what they were talking about with the proposal was that plan.
Erickson said MnDOT should hear the public opinion on it. Cross said the city did respond recently. MnDOT repeatedly sought public input for a Highway 210 corridor study using everything from newspaper posts, news releases, social media and even sidewalk decals. The survey concluded this past summer.
In 2024, MnDOT plans to resurface in both directions of Hwy 210 between Baxter Drive and Timberwood Drive in Baxter, including safety and access improvements proposed for Meredith Drive, Memorywood Drive and Fairview Road intersections.
The report from Bolton & Menk on moving the crossing from Knollwood to Inglewood:
Total expected project cost is $3,175,800.
The anticipated cost breakdown includes:
$841,800 for the work on the Knollwood Drive and Highway 210 intersection. The city’s portion of the cost would be $93,000 with MnDOT funds covering $748,800.
$942,000 for the Highway 210 and Inglewood Drive intersection and extension to Foley Road. The city cost for this section is estimated to be $155,500 with MnDOT funds for $66,650 and $122,850, or 25% of the traffic signal cost, coming from assessments.
$592,000 for the BNSF railroad crossing with $441,600 from a federal grant and $150,400 from the city..
$800,000 for the BNSF Railway crossing 20-year maintenance agreement.
The report provided an assessment rate of $0.0454 per square feet for the commercial properties. Commercial properties would have 12 years to pay the assessment.
For proposed 2022 construction on Foley Road, Isle Drive and Forthun Road:
The project is expected to cost $5,597,120.
The estimated cost breakdown includes:
$1,109,000 for Foley Road full-depth reclamation (from Highland Scenic to Knollwood Drive),
$1,744,300 Foley Road reconstruction (Knollwood Drive to east of Inglewood Drive intersection),
$765,825 for Foley Road water main,
$324,395 for Foley Road sanitary sewer,
$1,022,200 for Isle Drive and Forthun Road realignment.
The project proposes a 26-foot wide partial urban section for Foley Road with a 5-foot grass boulevard, 10-foot wide multipurpose paved trail, 22-foot wide frontage road next to the Inglewood Drive intersection, watermain, sanitary sewer to serve the Perch Lake lots at Inglewood Drive section and a mini-roundabout replacing the T-intersection at Isle Drive and Forthun Road.
The 2022 assessment for water, sewer and street is capped at $15,913. Residential properties have 15 years to pay the assessment. Foley Road has 19 residential units. The city is expecting to pay for 77% of the costs or $4,290,594 while assessments are responsible for bringing in $1,306,526 or 23% of the estimated costs.
There are hardship deferments for residential homesteads for senior citizens, disability and active military duty based on qualifying income.
The street proposals are expected to be back before the council for possible approval during the regular city council session Oct. 19.
If the plan is approved, a final assessment hearing would be expected in May of 2022, with a contract awarded in June and construction anticipated to begin in July and be completed by October of next year.