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City to study millions in traffic upgrades (07/16/2014)
By Chris Rogers
From sewers to roundabouts, seven major studies of potential city infrastructure improvements are underway, about to commence, or being considered by city staff. If all of the projects being studied are undertaken, the city could spend millions of dollars and Winona may be a different place when the cement dries. The list includes: an overhaul of the Sarnia Street and Mankato Avenue intersection; a safety barrier along Riverview Drive at Huff Street; a study of traffic improvements, including pedestrian safety improvements, on Broadway, Huff and, Main streets; a long-term "game plan" for the city's sewer and water system; a new bike path that would run from Vila Street through the Cotter School fields to Pelzer Street; a pedestrian crossing improvement at Huff Street and Highway 61; and a review of the weed treatment program on Lake Winona.

The city plans to work with a single engineering consulting firm Stantec Engineering for all of the studies. The city has already signed contracts with Stantec for some of the studies. For others, the city is still waiting to receive a proposal to conduct the study from Stantec.

Where is the money coming from?

Public Works Director Keith Nelson declined to provide the costs of studies for which the city has received proposals or has signed contracts; however, City Engineer Brian DeFrang said that one study already underway, the Riverview Drive barrier study, is estimated to cost the city around $20,000.

Nelson and City Manager Judy Bodway said that all of the studies will be funded with this year's budget. With the exception of the sewer study, which was funded through the sewer budget, funding for the studies has or will come from the "consulting services" line item in the engineering budget and a "other professional services" line item in the street department budget. The budget approved by the City Council includes $0 for "other professional services" in the street department. In the engineering department, there is no "consulting services" line item, but a line item described as "engineering consultants" includes $12,000. The engineering department's broader expense category, titled "professional services," includes $40,000. Bodway mentioned that other line items might be used to fund the studies. According to the city charter, the city manager has the authority to transfer funds within single expense categories for a single department without the council's approval.

City staff have not announced a plan for how any of the actual improvement projects the studies are examining would be funded. "That's undetermined what it would take to fund them, what it would cost, or whether they're feasible," Nelson said. "We haven't gotten into funding." He declined to comment when asked if the city would consider bonding or a local sales tax to fund the projects. The city has tentative plans to seek a local sales tax next year for the Louisa Street project.

Council members' requests

City staff have been talking about traffic studies since January, when council member George Borzyskowski renewed calls for a study of pedestrian safety on Broadway council member Pam Eyden first requested a study of pedestrian safety on Broadway last December. City Manager Judy Bodway told the council that a study of pedestrian safety improvements on Broadway was being worked on and would be presented soon. However, staff's descriptions of what would be studied and when were vague and changed over time. More than six months have passed since those promises the study was on its way. When the Winona Post asked Public Works Director Keith Nelson in early May what the status of the study was, he said the city was still waiting for a proposal, or bid, to do the study from a consulting firm, but that the proposal was expected in mid-May. Recently, the city hired consultants to begin the first phase of a study of traffic generally on Broadway, Huff, and Main streets.

"I wish it could have been handled sooner," Borzyskowski said of his requests in an interview last week. "I know a lot of times when we request things, especially a study of that much depth, it does take time," he added.

"That was a long time," Eyden said of the council's seven-months-and-counting wait for a study of pedestrian safety. "I realize that not everything takes that long to get on the docket," she continued. "I don't suspect that there is any particular reason for that; it was just the work at hand." She praised the idea of addressing Huff and Main streets, as well, and mentioned that she has encouraged staff to consider other downtown streets, too.

"I would kind of like to see each one stand alone," Borzyskowski said when asked about the grouping of the seven studies. "But sometimes traffic all intertwines, and that's what we hire administration for, and I trust them."

Roundabout at Mankato/Sarnia?

Highway 43 takes a 90 degree turn at the intersection of Mankato Avenue and Sarnia Street. For northbound traffic, making the left turn onto Sarnia Street during rush hour is a challenge. So, the city is preparing to once again study possible redesigns of the intersection including adding signals or converting the intersection into a roundabout. DeFrang stressed that in the course of the study a wide variety of designs will be considered and evaluated before a final preference is selected, but commented that a roundabout would be especially beneficial for drivers seeking to enter Riverbend Business Park from Sarnia Street.

The study will also examine changes to Mankato Avenue between Sarnia Street and Highway 61. DeFrang said that traffic levels there are within acceptable levels for a four-lane highway, but that the mass of left turn possibilities in that short stretch cause above average congestion and confusion. The study may consider eliminating some of the left turn options and consolidating left turns at stop lights, DeFrang said.

DeFrang said the scope of the study is currently being identified and Stantec has not yet been hired.

The city has long eyed improvements that would ease congestion in the Riverbend Business Park area. Voters approved a $4 million local sales tax in order to create "Riverbend Industrial Park" and generate high-paying manufacturing jobs. Instead, the city sold most of the land to large retail stores and renamed it a "business park," "retail park," and "technology park." In 2002, Minnesota Department of Transportation studies warned that as the area grew, so would congestion. In 2004, the city approved a plan for handling the expected surge in traffic, including an overhaul of Mankato Avenue and Sarnia Street and an extension of Louisa Street, which would create a secondary access to Highway 61. In 2007, the city unsuccessfully sought another half-cent sales tax for the Louisa Street project and, in 2009, the city drafted a federal stimulus request for $750,000 to convert the Mankato Avenue and Sarnia Street intersection into a roundabout, but scrapped the request before submitting it. Currently, the city's Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) calls for the Louisa Street extension to be completed with a half-cent sales tax in 2015.

The Louisa Street project will not be included in the Mankato Avenue and Sarnia Street study, DeFrang said. Even if the Louisa Street project comes to fruition, the Mankato Avenue and Sarnia Street intersection will still need improvements, he said.

Highway 43 makes up two of three "legs" of the Sarnia Street and Mankato Avenue intersection. That means Mn/DOT owns two-thirds of the intersection. City staff have been discussing potential projects with Mn/DOT district leaders and hope that by completing the study, they can convince Mn/DOT of the need for improvements and Mn/DOT funding. "We would not do the project on our dollar," DeFrang said. "We would need Mn/DOT to take a pretty heavy cost share." Once the study is complete, city staff plan to seek Mn/DOT support for a project.

Riverview Drive barrier

Stantec engineers are currently designing a permanent barrier at Riverview Drive and Huff Street. In 1997, five Saint Mary's University students crashed their car into the river and drowned at the corner of Riverview Drive and Huff Street. This January four people died in a similar crash. After the crash, citizens called for barriers to be installed. The council never took up the issue, but city staff ordered temporary concrete barriers to be placed there.

Sewer system audit

Stantec engineers have already completed a review of the condition of the city's Waste Water Treatment Plant and various lift stations. Now, city staff are drafting a "game plan" for what parts of the city's sewer and water infrastructure will need repairs and upgrades in the coming decade. Nelson said some of those projects will be included in this year's Capital Improvements Program (CIP), which will go before the council this fall. He declined to share the cost of the tentative CIP items.

When asked, Bodway said the sewer and water study will not include plans to upgrade the system to handle new annexation areas. City leaders plan to discuss continued annexation of Wilson Township next year.

Broadway, Huff, and Main streets

The city staff has hired Stantec for the first phase of studying potential improvements to Broadway, Huff, and Main streets. "It's a corridor study in general," not a study of pedestrian safety only, DeFrang explained. The study will consider pedestrians, bicycles, cars, and buses, he said.

The first phase will be to generate initial design concepts. DeFrang likened it to the early stages of planning for the Winona Bridge project, when all manner of different ideas, including replacing the old bridge with a single new bridge and different locations for a second bridge, were considered.

Pelzer-Vila trail?

The city is considering a feasibility study of constructing a bike trail that would connect the Lake Winona bike path spur that ends at Vila Street to the walkways and bike routes on Pelzer Street, connecting the lake paths to paths near Saint Mary's University. The tentative concept is for a new segment of trail to trace the county ditch right-of-way across the Cotter Schools' fields and along Kramer Drive.

Stantec engineers have not yet been hired for this study, and a project scope is still being developed.

Pedestrian crossing at Huff/61

Stantec engineers have been hired to study potential improvements to pedestrian crossings at Huff Street and Highway 61. Currently there is no cross walk at the intersection. "There are a fair amount of people who cross Highway 61 to either bike or hike on the bluff side," DeFrang noted. The city would like to make it safer and easier to do so, he said.

Lake Winona herbicide treatment

Last year, the city effectively retired the Lake Winona aquatic weed mower, and replaced it with a herbicide treatment program. Only East Lake was treated last year. A study with Stantec consultants is underway to evaluate the success of the program and establish a plan for continued weed management. 


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