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At issue: How to fix Hwy. 29

Mike Bittner from KLJ, a consulting firm hired by MnDOT, discusses options for Highway 29 North with those attending an open house Wednesday night. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 1 / 3
Janet Mallin of Osakis (glasses), whose family owns land along the section of Highway 29 North being studied by MnDOT, discusses different options with Trudy Kordosky, a MnDOT employee. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 2 / 3
The blue and green dots represent the options chosen by those attending an open house for a study being conducted on Highway 29 North. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 3 / 3

Roundabouts, more lanes, traffic lights, raised medians and more. These are some of the options being considered for a three-mile stretch of Highway 29 that extends from Alexandria's 3rd Avenue at the intersection near Elden's Fresh Foods to County Road 73, just beyond Lakes L'Homme Dieu and Geneva.

Roughly 100 people attended an open house Wednesday evening at Douglas County Public Works to learn more about the corridor study of Highway 29 currently being conducted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

There were several MnDOT representatives on hand during the open house to discuss options. Mike Bittner from KLJ, a consulting firm hired by MnDOT, also gave a presentation.

According to MnDOT, Highway 29 is an important roadway for residents in north Alexandria and also serves as the primary entry point on the north side of the city. The purpose of the study is to establish a vision for the corridor and to identify future roadway improvements to address capacity and transportation demand, safety and traffic issues, and to better serve the area's multi-modal transportation needs.

During his presentation, Bittner talked about crash history along the three-mile stretch of road and said that it is above the expected crash rate. There are about 14 crashes per year with 31 percent of them at four key intersections — 3rd Avenue, Nokomis, McKay and County Road 73. Of the crashes, 37 percent resulted in injuries, Bittner said.

Bittner broke down the corridor being studied into several sections — the 3rd Avenue intersection, 3rd Avenue to Nokomis Street, Nokomis Street intersection, Nokomis Street to McKay Avenue, McKay Avenue intersection and McKay Avenue to County Road 73.

3rd Avenue intersection

Issues with this section include dense traffic, making turns, and challenging for pedestrians and bicyclists to use. One of the options for improvement would be to turn the intersection into a roundabout. With this option, there could be significant traffic flow improvement.

"The roundabout would reinvent how this intersection operates," said Bittner, adding that overall serious crashes could reduce by 80 to 90 percent. In addition, pedestrians could cross one direction of traffic at a time.

3rd Avenue to Nokomis Street

Issues include too many access points per mile and too many crashes. One of the options is changing a portion of this section to a five-lane road that would include a sidewalk on both sides, two driving lanes on each side and a middle turning lane.

Bittner talked about the barriers to this section of road — no pedestrian crossing points and it's not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Nokomis Street intersection

Bittner called this intersection a "critical crash area" and deficient in the way it operates. A couple different options were discussed, including a Green-T intersection, which essentially is a traffic light system and also a continuous roundabout. Both options would significantly improve traffic flow and decrease crash potential.

Nokomis Street to McKay Avenue

Not enough turn lanes and minimal pedestrian and bike access were just a couple of the issues with this section. One of the options talked about was putting in four lanes, frontage roads and a trail. This would improve vehicle efficiency and safety, as well as bicycle and pedestrian connectivity and safety. Speed was also an issue discussed with this section and Bittner noted that "speed is dictated by the design of the road." He said signs don't deter people from speeding. He feels this section could be designed in a way that could make an impact on the speed at which vehicles travel.

McKay Avenue intersection

There was not a lot of concern with this intersection. Bittner said there is a low crash rate and the intersection operations are acceptable. There is also pedestrian and bicycle crossing opportunity with the traffic lights. There were no changes planned for this intersection at this time.

McKay Avenue to County Road 73

There were several issues discussed with this intersection, including it is above the statewide crash rate with the majority of crashes being sideswipes and rear-end crashes; there is a mix of no turn lanes, turn lanes and bypass lanes; and there are sporadic pedestrian and bicycle crossings. An option would be to add a trail on one side, a median, two driving lanes on each side and a shoulder on the other side.

Next steps

During the rest of February, the plan, although not set in stone, is to review and process public comments. In March, the comments would then be reviewed with MnDOT and officials from both the city of Alexandria and Douglas County. Then in April, the findings could be presented to both the city council and the county board to see if a project could be funded.

If you couldn't attend the meeting but would still like to your voice to be heard, you can send written comments, by Friday, Feb. 22, to Mike Bittner, project manager, 728 E. Beaton Dr., West Fargo, ND, 58078. Comments can be submitted via email to mike.bittnerTH 29 Public Input.

More details can be found on the project website, www.dot.state.mn.us/d4/projects/hwy29alex/.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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