Whatever happens with the Winona bridge project, do not expect "Mn/DOT" to stay out of local headlines for long. The Minnesota Department of Transportation will be seeking the Winona City Council's blessing again this fall for the Highway 14/61 and Gilmore Avenue project to begin construction in 2015. Mn/DOT intends to pursue the cheapest option for the intersection, a roughly $2 million "minimum build" plan.
If Mn/DOT follows through with that plan, the intersection will be "at capacity" as soon as work begins in 2015, said former Project Manager Jeff Bunch at the last public meeting about the project in September 2012. Though Mn/DOT studied making more substantial changes to the intersection, the agency has only budgeted enough for the minimum build option. Current Mn/DOT Project Manager Jai Kalsy said that a lack of money was the main reason for pursuing that option.
Kalsy added that more expensive, more intrusive options "might help straighten out the geometrics" but would not fix the intersection, either. "A larger fix would require more extensive construction and more extensive impacts, which may not yield a whole lot of advantages or improvements," Kalsy stated. Bunch described all of the options as "Band-Aids" in 2012. Bunch added that if the city wanted a more expensive option, it would need to join the list of projects waiting for state money.
At that same meeting, former Mayor Jerry Miller said that the project was delayed because Mn/DOT got "sick of" listening to local stakeholders. "There are flaws in each one," he said, encouraging residents not to accept an imperfect solution or risk getting no solution at all.
The most expensive option considered, a $10 million plan, would have rebuilt and squared the slanted intersections. The problem did not justify such a big price tag, Bunch said. Residents at that meeting complained that Mn/DOT District 6 spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Rochester while skimping in Winona.
Mn/DOT officials have long eyed the skewed crisscross of the highway, Gilmore Avenue, Orrin Street, Service Road, Service Drive, and "the Taco Bell cut" and pondered what to do about it. The intersection is a hot spot for accidents, the signal system is on its last legs, and cars do not have enough room to wait behind stoplights and signs, according to Mn/DOT studies. Bunch described the intersection as uncontrolled and unsafe.
The jumble of roadways cramped into a small area, and the disjointed angles of intersections make the troubled intersection particularly challenging to alter and improve. While other plans featured major overhauls of the Gilmore Avenue intersection, the most significant change in the proposed plan is that drivers on Orrin Street will no longer be able to cross Highway 61.
Under the proposal, Mn/DOT will be replacing the aged traffic signals, too, which is the most needed improvement, stated Kalsy. Additionally, the change to Orrin Street will help reduce the potential for collisions "quite a bit," Kalsy said.
Mn/DOT intends to submit its preliminary geometric design to the city of Winona and seek municipal consent by the end of this year. There will be no acquisition of private land under the proposal, according to Kalsy.