Improvements on Inglewood Drive will have to wait a bit longer, as the Baxter City Council unanimously voted for a one-year delay on the project hamstrung by limitations from COVID-19.
The Baxter City Council convened via Zoom during its biweekly meeting Tuesday, June 2. During the meeting project supervisor Pete Lemke, of engineering-architectural firm Bolton & Menk, said planning was solid, the pieces were in place and project heads were ready to embark on the 2021 Inglewood Drive railroad crossing and associated improvements project, but seismic world events made it impossible — for now.
In particular, he pointed to the dearth of traffic on the roadways with restrictions on travel during the last few months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Over the past couple of months, there's been some things that maybe would lead us to have some conversations on our team about delaying the project,” Lemke said. “We are having trouble getting traffic columns that would be suitable for justifying or warranting a traffic signal at these areas.”
Back in February, city officials briefed the council on the wide-ranging project that looks to relocate the Knollwood Drive traffic signal and railroad crossing to Inglewood Drive, implement pavement rehabilitation on Foley Road, install public utility improvements, and create an improved configuration for the Forthun Road and Isle Drive intersection.
At the time, 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.
At the time, it was estimated to cost $5,542,270 — though, it was understood that figure might change with another feasibility study. The next study was set to be conducted this summer by Bolton & Menk, which was contracted by the city to provide analysis and engineering services with the project in the amount of $491,505. Lemke indicated most, if not all, metrics of traffic flow analysis would be hampered, or provide questionable data, because of the effect COVID-19 has on traffic.
Lemke indicated project heads planned on hosting meetings with affected portions of the Baxter public — particularly on stretches of Foley Road — to keep people apprised and involved in the implementation of the project going forward, but social distancing would also inhibit this function of the process.
This entails a delay of about four months, but with how construction season fits into the grander scheme of central Minnesota seasonal patterns, it will push the project back to 2022. In addition, Lemke assured council members — per discussions with officials at the Minnesota Department of Transportation — state funding can also be withheld until a later time.
“We feel that having those public meetings, having those interactions and public engagement is going to be difficult with some of the meeting restrictions related to COVID-19,” Lemke said. “So based on that, we are recommending to the city that we delay that project.”
Council member Todd Holman speculated whether plans to install a silent railroad crossing at that stretch of road — which was slated for 2022 — could be implemented alongside the 2021 Inglewood Drive railroad crossing and associated improvements project in a cost-saving measure. Walter said it was possible, but cautioned finding the funding would be tricky.
Mayor Darrel Olson said the city will likely have to incur some new costs with the change of construction date.
“There is no ideal situation,” Olson said. “It's probably unavoidable. The further it goes, the more expensive it gets, you know? It happens.”