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Public turns out in droves to review Highway 61 reconstruction project plans

Mar 02, 2018 06:59AM ● By Editor
More than 70 people attended the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) open house held at the Grand Marais City Council meeting room this past Tuesday to view the latest map of planned 2019 Highway 61 construction through town. Attendees were encouraged to write down improvements or changes they would like to see and give them to MnDOT so they could be reviewed before a final plan for the corridor is completed.
Staff photo/Brian Larsen

By Brian Larsen of the Cook County News Herald - March 2, 2018

From 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 27, Grand Marais City Hall was packed with citizens and business people who have a vested interest in the 2019 summer Highway 61 corridor project that will run through the city of Grand Marais.

Crowds of people came to look at architecturally drawn maps spread across tables detailing the corridor through Grand Marais that will be part of the $7.5 million 

11.23-mile MnDOT project that will start 1.8 miles north of Cutface Creek and end 0.1 miles south of County Road 14.

The open house was hosted by Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) with Moving Matters assisting. Pens and paper were available for people to leave comments and suggestions, which MnDOT officials took back with them to review. 

While MnDOT is proposing to make Highway 61 “skinnier” to slow traffic through town, they are also talking about increasing parking, in places, alongside of the busy highway, adding bump outs, getting rid of some turning lanes, adding bike lanes and improving sidewalks. Some were worried about how the new changes would influence the way customers enter their business.

“More than 70 people signed in, but I think we had more people than that show-up,” said Grand Marais City Administrator Mike Roth, who added, “It was a nice turnout.”

According to literature provided, bump-outs or curb extensions improve pedestrian visibility and reduce exposure by shortening crossing distance which, says MnDOT, results in 39 percent to 46 percent reduction in pedestrian-related crashes.

Curb extensions, which cost $5,000 to $10,000 per corner, move parked vehicles further back from the intersection, improving sight lines and improving the visibility of pedestrians near parked vehicles.

MnDOT has proposed to: Install or upgrade curb ramps at intersections; extend culverts further from the sidewalk; install new sidewalk on the south side of Hwy. 61 from Broadway Avenue to 5th Avenue East; replace sidewalk on the north side of Hwy. 61 from 8th Avenue West to Broadway Avenue; extend bike trail from 3rd Avenue West to Broadway Avenue on the south side of Hwy. 61; install pedestrian push buttons at the traffic signal at Broadway Avenue.

Although this wasn’t a formal presentation, the gathering provided an opportunity for the public to speak with Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) project staff and representatives of Grand Marais, who has been working with MnDOT engineers and architects.

Much of what MnDOT is proposing came from the 2014-2015 visioning process public meetings held by the city of Grand Marais and Moving Matters.

At those meetings, people were asked a variety of questions that included: How do you use the corridor project area? How often? By what means of transportation?

Have you walked or biked along this corridor? Why? How does the corridor change with the seasons? And, what do you believe are the most significant health concerns in our community?

That information was given to MnDOT and the city, which has long planned to make improvements to the corridor in conjunction with the road work.

When the highway is torn up in places, the city will work with MnDOT to replace/repair some of its older storm sewers that cross Highway 61.

Suggestions to MnDOT have included making better, safer crosswalks; making more accessible parking; traffic enforcement; putting in better signage; adding more trees and flowers; making better, more reliable bike routes through town; and, for the city, to add more public washrooms.

A local steering committee has been working with MnDOT to advocate for the community vision and priorities.

Mike Roth, city administrator, said MnDOT will come before the city council on March 28 with a presentation gleaned from the public comments gained at the Tuesday public meeting. “This won’t be a public hearing,” said Roth, “But a presentation to the council.”

City council meetings, of course, are open to the public to attend. 

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