Council discusses road upgrades

The last few Forest Lake City Council meetings have included discussion about road improvements that are or may be coming to city streets.

Mill and overlay

At the council’s Feb. 13 meeting, the body approved the preparation of plans and specifications for bids on this year’s mill and overlay project. Over the next month, City Engineer Ryan Goodman will develop the plans and examine how much improvement needs to be done on the roads scheduled for mill and overlay in this year’s capital improvement plan. The amount of work to be done and the estimated cost to do it will help determine exactly how much road will get the mill and overlay treatment; in previous years, the city has been able to extend the projects to cover roads in years beyond the current year in the capital improvement plan thanks to favorable bids and good planning. The city has budgeted $700,000 for mill and overlay work this year.

The current schedule calls for the council to examine the plans for approval on March 27, with a bid opening April 19 and a potential bid award May 8. The work would be done over the summer or fall, depending on contractor schedule, though Goodman told The Times that the work would be done no later than the end of October. Though an exact rundown of roads for this year’s project has not been determined, the city’s capital improvement plan calls for several roads around U.S Highway 61, in the area between Fourth Avenue Northwest and Eighth Avenue Northwest, to get mill and overlay treatment this year, as well as a stretch of Everton Avenue North near Cub Foods. In a similar vein, the council authorized on Feb. 27 the preparation of plans and specifications for a seal coat and crack sealing project and a reclamation and double chip seal project to be completed on select city streets this summer.

Future projects

During its Feb. 21 work session, the council absorbed a presentation from the Minnesota Department of Transportation on an access management study the department has been conducting on State Highway 97 between U.S. Highway 61 and Manning Trail. MnDOT hopes the study will develop some options for improving safety for drivers on the highway. One improvement, a left-turn lane for drivers at the intersection of 11th Street and 97, is scheduled to be implemented later this year.

MnDOT also has plans for making improvements at the Harrow Avenue intersection in 2021. Council members wanted to know what benchmarks needed to be met before MnDOT would consider converting the intersection into a signaled intersection, which some on the council believed would be a safer option for the location. To be eligible for conversion, the roadway would need to meet thresholds for peak traffic and consistency of traffic.

The council also received an update on a jointly funded study, by the city and Forest Lake Area Schools, on possible safety improvements at the intersection of 97 and Goodview Avenue, a four-way, signaled intersection that currently requires left-turning drivers to make a turn at an acute angle. The intersection made headlines in 2016 when one driver made such a turn and hit and killed 18-year-old Forest Lake Area High School student Katya Loahr, who was walking home on Goodview. The intersection is close to both the high school and Century Junior High School.

Though the city’s engineering firm, Bolton & Menk, will continue to seek feedback from the public and the council on the project, at this point, it has narrowed down options to two alignment choices and two pedestrian fixes. The city could realign the intersection so that the roads met at more of a right angle, requiring the intersection to be shifted slightly to the east or west, or it could build a roundabout at the intersection; either option would help reduce the sharp, visually obstructed turns that some residents believe plague the current intersection. For pedestrian options, an underpass or overpass could be built at the intersection, allowing students walking to or from school to avoid the street altogether.

The project was estimated to cost between $1.5 million to $3 million, depending on which options were utilized, with an east-shifting intersection with an underpass likely being the cheapest option and a roundabout with an overpass estimated as likely the most expensive. Each option presents its own pros and cons; while a realignment might be cheaper than a roundabout at that location, realigning the road might cause the city to run afoul of watershed regulations.

Bolton & Menk hopes to get the council settled on a specific plan over the next few months in a process that will include feedback opportunities from residents. Once the city has a firm plan in place, it can solicit funding to help cover the costs from MnDOT and from federal funding managed by the Metropolitan Council.