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Taking the jam out of traffic

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Like other growing cities, Alexandria has trouble spots for drivers - places where traffic jams up and accidents frequently happen.

The goal of a new Alexandria Area 2030 Transportation Plan is to identify those problem areas and recommend ways to improve safety and traffic flow in the decades ahead.

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Jack Forslund with WSB and Associates, a member of the team in charge of the plan, updated the Alexandria City Council about its work.

The team, which also includes the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and leaders from Douglas County and the city, started studying local transportation needs 15 months ago.

A new plan is overdue, Forslund said, noting that it hasn't been updated in 10 years. The plan includes Alexandria and the adjacent area within two to five miles beyond the city limits - an area that encompasses about 110 square miles.

A lot of input has gone into the plan so far from local officials, agencies, the public and "stakeholders" such as the school district, major employers, local economic development and emergency response providers, Forslund said.

The next two decades will place additional pressure on Alexandria's transportation system, Forslund said. As of 2006, 9.2 miles of roads in Alexandria are at travel capacity or approaching capacity. By 2030, the number is projected to rise to 34.8 miles.

The highest traffic volumes are along Highways 27 and 29 through Alexandria, which handles about 18,700 vehicles per day. One area of particular concern is the traffic congestion on Nokomis Street, north of Highway 29.

He added that extensions on 12th and 18th Avenues - which are planned to take place before 2015 - should relieve some of those high traffic volumes on Nokomis. Another planned project, adding an additional north-bound lane on Highway 29 north of 3rd Avenue, is also expected to relieve congestion.

These "what if" improvements and others (detailed below), would evolve slowly through the year 2030 and won't be cheap. The estimated cost is $41.2 million, split between the state ($21.4 million), county ($12.3 million) and the city ($7.5 million). The council didn't take action on the plan, which also calls for road transfers between the state, county, city and townships. A draft of the report is expected to be presented later this month.

Here are some of the possibilities:

• Constructing an I-94 overpass by extending Nevada Street. The area south of the I-94 interchange, specifically near Lake Andrew, is expected to see a big increase in population. So is the area north of I-94 near the industrial park.

As a result, travel is expected to increase between those two areas. Right now, drivers must use either Highway 27 or 29 to cross I-94.

An overpass on Nevada Street is expected to attract about 3,500 vehicles per day and would reduce traffic near the I-94 interchange by 2,000 vehicles.

• Building an additional interchange on I-94. Two potential locations were considered - off County Road 17 (four miles east of Highway 29) or off County Road 106 (two miles east of Highway 29). It concluded that the County Road 17 location was too isolated while a County Road 106 interchange would relieve traffic on Highway 29 and its interchange with I-94.

• Reconstructing Highway 29 at the I-94 interchange. A "tight diamond" design is recommended. The plan calls to expand Highway 29 from just south of I-94 to County Road 28 to a four-way divided road by 2030.

• Extend 50th Avenue and improve access to the industrial park. The plan calls to move the west access road intersection further west along a new 50th Avenue alignment that would provide for adequate spacing between intersections and allow vehicles to form a line without blocking access points. Also, access to the industrial park from 50th Avenue would provide quick and easy access to and from I-94.

• Improve neighborhood access along Nokomis Street. This includes the avenues of 1st, Darling, Lakeview, Agnes and Henry. Residents living in this neighborhood have long said how hard it is to cross Nokomis.

The plan calls to upgrade Highway 29 where it becomes Nokomis Street, northbound just north of 3rd Avenue. The project would provide two continuous traffic lanes from 3rd Avenue to just north of County Road 42. The plan also calls to add traffic lights or signs at the intersection of Lakeview Avenue and Nokomis Street.

• Limiting access on Highway 29 near McKay Avenue. The plans calls to close or limit access to Highway 29 from Lisa Avenue to the north and Oak Knoll Drive to the south.

Speed is also a safety issue in this area because it abruptly changes from 55 mph to 30 mph just north of County Road 42. The plan recommends 45 mph signs to transition the limit from 55 mph to 30 mph so drivers are accelerating and slowing down at safer rates.

• Improving the Carlos Corners intersection. Four-way stop signs were recently installed at the intersection of Highway 29 with County Roads 42 and 13 near Carlos. The plan calls for additional measures - closing accesses in the northwest and southeast quadrants of the intersection.

WHERE WILL MONEY COME FROM?

The transportation plan outlines a broad strategy to pay for improvements over the next 20 years - new legislation, public-private partnerships, agencies pooling or partnering together, increased state-aid transportation funding and "non-traditional" methods, such as bonding, congressional appropriations, fees and third party agreements.

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Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
(320) 763-1236
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