Discussion has begun for a large-scale road project that will see the reconstruction of Highway 210/Washington Street between Baxter Drive and Pine Shores Road in Brainerd in 2025.
Wider sidewalks, median changes and additional turn lanes are included in the project, which aims to increase safety and accessibility, and it will be open for public comment later this month before a design plan is set. Members of the Brainerd City Council and Crow Wing County Board got a first glimpse at proposed changes during a joint meeting Monday, Aug. 2, with project development managers Luke Wehseler from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Chris Hiniker from Short Elliott Hendrickson.
Public engagement thus far
Project development began in December 2019, with the first in-person open house planned for March 2020 but delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, a virtual open house took place in winter 2020, with over 1,000 community members reviewing project documents online, sharing concerns about the Highway 210 corridor and giving feedback as to what they would like to see improved.
Nearly half the respondents were in the 35-44 and 55-64 age ranges, and 58% were female. The top five aspects of the road respondents said they would like to see improved were (in order): overall traffic safety, ability to move through town, access to businesses, street crossings and walking safety/comfort.
Most people who participated in the virtual open house said they drive on the road, while a small percentage said they walk or bike.
“People are alright with the roadway, but they’re not really feeling good about it,” Wehseler said, noting respondents specifically mentioned the need for improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Some additional comments focused on intersections, stating there are too many stoplights, too few turn lanes and badly timed stoplights, and others said they would like to see bike lanes on the road.
With the open house and a study of the corridor guiding proposed solutions and conceptual designs for upgrades, MnDOT and SEH are now working to gather more community input to revise proposed improvements before bringing a plan before city and county officials.
“We want to learn how people are using this, how people aren’t using this. What are the problems? What are the issues? How can we solve that?” Wehseler said, noting project developers want to hear from all different people — businesses, truckers, commuters, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.
Project developers split the road into five segments when discussing improvements. The first segment — or west segment — runs from Baxter Drive to the Mississippi River bridge.
The main goal in this segment is to widen the sidewalks to make the stretch more pedestrian-friendly, which Hiniker said can be done within the existing right of way.
With a reconstruction project just having wrapped up on Northwest Fourth Street just north of Washington Street, Hiniker said another enhancement proposed for that area would be an additional left turn lane from northbound Northwest Fourth Street onto westbound Washington.
The second proposal is a median added to Washington Street at Northwest Third and Northwest Fifth streets, creating right-in/right-out only intersections.
“That’s primarily in response to the frequent occurrence of traffic waiting at the signal backing up more than a block and either blocking those intersections or making it difficult for traffic on 210 to take a left off to the side street,” Hiniker said.
Council member Gabe Johnson asked if there were any measures other than wider sidewalks to improve safety in that area, with many vehicles coming in from Baxter taking longer than they should to slow down to the 35 mph speed limit. Hiniker said they will continue discussing the issue, but it’s difficult because the road accommodates so many different uses.
Commissioner Steve Barrows mentioned some businesses in that area — like Walgreens — that have direct accesses onto Washington Street that can sometimes be problematic for traffic. Hiniker said some of the proposed medians could help in those areas, and there will likely be more conversation on that topic.
Mississippi River bridge
The sidewalks are also proposed to be widened over the Mississippi River bridge, increasing from 6 feet to 11 feet by reducing the size of the median from 14 feet to 4 feet.
Walkers and bikers who gave feedback during the virtual open house said this area is especially problematic for them.
Council member Tiffany Stenglein asked what effect this change would have on the speed of traffic, and Hiniker said it shouldn’t have a huge impact but could slow down vehicles slightly, with the east and westbound lanes closer to each other with the smaller median.
When construction happens on the bridge, council member Dave Pritschet asked if one lane of traffic could still be allowed each way, which developers said is a definite possibility.
Proposed changes to the central segment — between First and Ninth streets — include wider sidewalks, a raised median and the elimination of on-street parking on the north side of the road.
The raised median would aim to better manage traffic and limit vehicles driving straight across Washington Street or taking left turns from the side streets, which Hiniker said can be dangerous.
Hiniker said he knows there may be issues with parking for certain businesses if the on-street parking is removed, so project developers would work with business owners that don’t have off-street parking to come up with a solution.
The proposal also includes adding eastbound right turn lanes onto East River Road and Fourth and Eighth streets, along with removing the eastbound left turn lane onto Chippewa Street, as would be needed with the narrowing of the median on the bridge.
East mall/railyard segment
The sidewalk on the next segment between Ninth Street and 10th Avenue Northeast would also be widened under the proposal, and the on-street parking on the north side of the street would be eliminated. Without the on-street parking, there would be room for about 6 feet of greenspace on the south side of the road.
Hiniker presented three proposals for improvements around the intersection of Washington Street and Eighth Avenue Northeast.
“Because we have such high traffic volumes on these secondary intersections, where we can we would like to try to limit how people turn because of the conflux it creates,” Hiniker said.
All three proposals include moving access to Highway 25 and include a median at the intersection with 10th Avenue Northeast to prevent crossover traffic and prevent vehicles from turning left off of 10th Avenue.
The first proposal would move the stoplight at Fourth Avenue to Fifth Avenue, as Hiniker said that is a high-demand area for traffic from the west coming into the mall, and it would move the Highway 25 access up to the stoplight at Eighth Avenue.
The second proposal would replace the stoplight at Eighth Avenue with a roundabout, while the third proposal includes a split intersection with two roundabouts — one onto Highway 25 and one at Eighth Avenue. Hiniker said he believes this third option would be the best to accommodate future traffic demands. The second option would be the next best choice, and the option without a roundabout would be the third choice, though it would still be better than the road’s current design.
There are no proposed alterations to the east segment — between 10th Avenue Northeast and Pine Shores Road — besides repaving Highway 210. Council member Johnson said he would like to see some greenspace between the road and sidewalk to create a better aesthetic welcoming traffic into Brainerd.
Another online public comment period on the current proposals is planned to begin in mid- to late August and last about three weeks. An interactive map will allow members of the public to see plans for the various segments of the road and give their feedback.
Paper copies of the design proposals will also be available at city hall and county buildings later this month.
A business workshop will likely take place near the end of August to allow the chamber of commerce and businesses along the highway to give their input.