A plan to improve the pedestrian crossing at Third Avenue and Kenwood Street – once referred to as a “death trap” – is in the works.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council agreed to recommend the Minnesota Department of Transportation extend the pedestrian island at the crossing to the east, which will prohibit all left-turn movements at the intersection.

An idea to install pedestrian-activated Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons or RRFBS – which was tested last summer – is not being recommended.

The city’s Highway Committee explored four configurations:

1. The existing island with no changes.

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2. The existing island with the addition of RRFBs

3. A configuration that would restrict all left turn movements except westbound to southbound.

4. A configuration with all left turn movements restricted.

The committee determined option 4, extending the island east to prevent all left turns but without RRFBs, provided the most benefits. It cited these reasons:

  • Extending the island east will eliminate the problem of eastbound to northbound left turning movements.

  • Extending the island east will eliminate the issue of northbound to westbound vehicles running over the sign on the end of the island.

  • Option 4 is the layout with the fewest turning movements, simplifying the crossing for pedestrians.

  • Pedestrians were reluctant or unwilling to use the RRFBs.

  • Even with RRFBs activated, some vehicles on the inside lanes of Third Avenue did not stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.

City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said a meeting will be held with the adjacent business owners about the plan.

Schoonhoven stressed that because Third Avenue is a trunk highway, the final determination regarding the configuration is ultimately MnDOT's decision.

The pedestrian island crossing has been the subject of much discussion because of near misses between pedestrians and vehicles, and drivers trying to make illegal turns at the intersection despite “no-turn” signs.

Former council member Todd Jensen referred to the crossing as a death trap at a meeting in July 2019. He said drivers weren’t heeding the yellow crossing signs to yield to pedestrians who are at the crosswalk. The signs have been knocked over repeatedly by drivers.

New Mexican restaurant gets liquor licenses

Liquor licenses were issued for a new Mexican restaurant that will be opening in Alexandria.

The council issued on-sale and Sunday liquor licenses to El Loro Mexican Grill that will operate out of the former Tennessee Roadhouse location at 4820 Highway 29 South. The owner is Marcos Gomez.

A public hearing was held before the council unanimously approved the request but no one from the public spoke.

El Loro Mexican Grill has 14 locations in the Twin Cities metro area. It offers a wide variety of Mexican dishes and specialties for lunch and dinner, including nachos, quesadillas, fajitas, burritos, chimichangas, tacos, combinations and more. It also serves vegetarian meals and desserts.

The Tennessee Roadhouse closed in 2017 after the owners filed for bankruptcy.

Big utility bid accepted

A construction bid of $829,740 from Castrejon, Inc. of Blaine was accepted as part of ALP Utilities project to place more electric lines underground.

The bid was lower than the city’s estimate of $860,000.

The areas where the work is being done are McKay Avenue; Nokomis Street to Kenwood Street (Third to Sixth Avenue); and North Ash Street/Bryant Street.

The construction bid and the overall project were planned for and approved in ALP Utilities’ capital budget for 2021.

Quieting noise at pickleball courts

An idea to install a privacy fence to cut down noise from the new pickleball courts at City Park was voted down.

The Park Board recommended the council to accept a $20,986 quote from Oberg Fencing Company for an 8-foot-high, 250-foot-long maintenance-free vinyl fence that would run along the north side of the property.

Property owners near the courts complained about loud noise

Instead of a fence, council member Bill Franzen suggested using greenery to reduce the noise. Bill Thoennes, parks director, said it would take time to plant and grow greenery that would be 8-feet tall. Thoennes also had concerns about maintenance.

Other council members didn't like the idea of spending $20,000 on a fence that may not reduce the noise.

Council member Dave Benson said that the people living near the courts knew that their property was near park land, which can get noisy with activity and traffic.

A motion to accept the fence bid failed on a 3-2 vote with Franzen, Benson and Thalman voting against it, and Scott Allen and Andrew Wiener voting for it.

Thoennes said he would look more into the greenery option and talk to the property owners.

The money to put up the fence would have came out of the city’s capital improvement fund, which has a balance of just over $1 million.

Agreement sealed with RCC expansion designer

The council approved an agreement with the 292 Design Group to provide engineering and architectural services for an expansion project at the Runestone Community Center.

The Minnesota Legislature included the $10 million expansion in its bonding bill. The state agreed to provide roughly half the cost, $5.6 million. The city, likely using tax abatement bonds, and private funds raised by groups that use the facility, will cover the rest of the cost.

In addition to adding a third rink to meet the surging demand for more ice time, the expansion will allow the RCC to host dry-floor events in the expansion area, which would free up ice arenas for skating and curling.

The proposed contract with 292 Design Group has two phases. The first phase is for pre-design work that will ultimately be submitted to the state for review and approval. The flat fee for that work is $12,500.

The second phase involves work from schematic design through construction. This fee is 5.5% of the cost of building and site improvements. The construction budget will be approved and set by the city after the design development phase and cost estimating verification by the construction manager.

The city will not receive the state grant funds until a grant agreement is signed. This will not take place until all funding sources are secured and documented. Until then, the city will pay the costs of the design from existing funds.