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Big changes on Broadway?

Alexandria residents at an informational meeting Tuesday looked over a 3D model showing what a block of Broadway could look like if the city council decides to pursue a reconstruction project. It could take place in 2014 and dramatically change a five-block area on Broadway between 8th and 3rd Avenue.

Imagine a five-block section of Alexandria's Broadway completely reconstructed and redesigned to include:

A bicycle lane.

Shorter and safer pedestrian crosswalks.

Kiosks and signs to show visitors where downtown businesses and attractions are located.

Streetscape touches like trees, prairie grasses, benches, bike racks, a clock tower, planters and walkway patterns.

You may not have to imagine it. It could happen as soon as 2014.

Alexandria city leaders talked about a Broadway reconstruction plan at a public information meeting Tuesday night that drew a mostly supportive and enthused crowd of about 60 residents and business owners.

City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said the city has a unique opportunity to capitalize on the Minnesota Department of Transportation's (MnDOT) plans for Broadway. MnDOT is scheduled to overlay Broadway with two inches of new asphalt from 3rd Avenue all the way to 50th Avenue in 2012.

It would, however, hold off overlaying Broadway between 3rd and 8th Avenue if the city approves a more aggressive project - a complete reconstruction and redesign of that section of the road.

The project would also replace 50-year-old underground water and sewer lines that serve local businesses.

If the city decides to not do the project, MnDOT would proceed with the overlay as scheduled and likely wouldn't consider tearing up the road for at least 15 years, Schoonhoven said.

The Alexandria City Council is expected to make a decision at its next meeting on May 23.


The city's cost in the $4.7 million reconstruction - which would also include improving the side streets of 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Avenue and Fillmore Street - is estimated at $239,000.

Schoonhoven provided a breakdown of the other funding sources: Municipal state aid funds - $1.65 million, MnDOT - $1.67 million, federal funds - $198,000, Alexandria Lakes Area Sanitary District - $262,000, Alexandria Light and Power - $412,000 (water) and $275,000 (lighting), stormwater utility funds - $62,000.

Schoonhoven emphasized that the project would be done without any assessments to businesses. They would only pay if they decided to upgrade their water main lines from the existing one-inch diameter to six-inches, a $3,000 to $4,000 expense.

The upgrade, Schoonhoven said, would allow businesses to install sprinkler systems. It would also save businesses from having to constantly repair their aging water lines, which can cost $5,000 per break.


The project, Schoonhoven said, would make Broadway look better, but more importantly, it would help the city economically. "We've got to make our businesses stronger downtown," he said.

Making Broadway more accessible and welcoming to bicyclists would help businesses tap into the 150,000 people that use the Central Lakes Trail, Schoonhoven said.

Signs downtown could include color-coded maps and by-category listings of businesses and attractions.

"The goal is to try to pull people through our downtown and help them find their way," Schoonhoven said.


Those attending the meeting had some questions but a clear majority favored the project. When City Planner Mike Weber asked how many supported doing the project in 2014, nearly every hand in the room went up.

One resident said that as a parent, she liked the fact that Broadway would be more inviting, safe and welcoming to all ages, including teenagers on bicycles.

A business owner said that the downtown area needs a facelift to stay competitive.

Another business owner, Marv Martinson, said the city should seize the opportunity to improve Broadway at a greatly reduced cost.

"I just think we have a golden opportunity here and we'd better grab it," he said.

Another business owner, Ed Rooney, agreed and encouraged the council to support the project.

"The plusses so outweigh the minuses, we just have to do this," he said.

A resident who likes to ride bike for fun said she'd spend more time eating and shopping downtown if it was more bicycle friendly.

Not everyone, however, supported the project as presented.

One resident, Larry Gasperlin, said that the city should "forget about the frills" of a bike lane, trees, signage and landscaping, and focus on the road, sewer and water. He listed the budgets of the county, school and city and how much they are taxing residents.

"Let's not put frills ahead of responsibility," he said. "Let's look at the whole picture."

Another resident, Terry Rode, said that while the project promises to make Broadway beautiful and safer, he'd like to see it quieter. He said the city should enforce ordinances to stop the noise pollution.

Schoonhoven acknowledged that vehicles on Broadway can get loud but added that many people wouldn't like it dead quiet either.

"Bikes and foot traffic are nice and quiet," added a business owner who supported the project.


The Broadway work could be completed in one construction season, Schoonhoven said, and it would be a huge undertaking, similar to the 3rd Avenue reconstruction.

One of the keys to getting the project done quickly with the least amount of disruption, he said, is to make sure everything is ready by 2014.

A two-block section of Fillmore Street between 7th and 9th Avenue is a bottleneck that needs to be widened, he said. That project would be done in 2012. Underground utility work on the side streets between Fillmore and Broadway - 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Avenue - would be completed in 2013.

The Broadway project would be done in three phases in 2014. Phase one would start just south of 3rd Avenue and continue short of 6th Avenue. Phase two would be the intersection of 6th and Broadway. The final phrase would go from 6th to 8th Avenue.


Here's more information about the Broadway reconstruction project between 3rd and 8th Avenue, according to the city's presentation and responses to questions at Tuesday's meeting:

• The reconstructed road would have the same number of lanes, five - two southbound, two northbound and a center turning lane. The number of parallel parking spaces would also remain the same.

• The lanes will be slightly narrower, going from between 12 and 13 feet wide to 11 feet. They'll be as wide as the lanes on 3rd Avenue.

• Crosswalks would be shortened slightly at each intersection on Broadway between 3rd and 8th Avenue to include "bump-outs." This would shorten the distance pedestrians have to walk to cross the busy road and make it safer.

• The bump-outs, because they'll extend out into the street, may make it harder for drivers to make right turns onto the side streets.

• A bicycle lane would be added on the west side of Broadway. It would be located off the street in the sidewalk area. The width of the sidewalk, which is between 10 and 11 feet now, would be doubled on the west side only to accommodate the bike lane.

• The bike lane wouldn't be intended for commuters, Schoonhoven said. Its purpose would be to allow bicyclists to get to downtown stores and restaurants and access the Central Lakes Trail.

• The project, by itself, won't necessarily increase property values or taxes for downtown businesses. Weber noted that value is just one factor in determining taxes.

• Snow removal wouldn't change much if Broadway were redesigned. Snow would still be piled in the middle of the street to be hauled away. Businesses would still be responsible for clearing their sidewalks.

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.  
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