Roughly four years ago, Wahkon received blacktopping work from the highway department, adding a center-turn lane down the center of the city’s main thoroughfare, Hwy. 27. In the coming years, that road layout could see major changes. At the regular Wahkon City Council meeting held Feb. 8, Dave Blommel, with Short Elliot Hendrickson, Inc., presented the council with a new option for the road, which could be implemented by 2024 or 2025.
As shown in Blommel’s diagram for the new proposed design, Hwy 27’s center turn lane. “MnDOT doesn’t feel the traffic warrants a center turn lane,” Blommel explained. “I know we’ve had discussions about it in the past, but this is their preferred option.” The goal of this narrowing of the roadway, Blommel said, would be to slow traffic down and draw more attention to people turning. In a conversation with the Messenger after the meeting, city clerk Karrie Roeschlein indicated that slower traffic would also draw more the attention of passersby to Wahkon’s businesses and community.
In turn, Blommel added, the new proposed layout would allow for larger concrete blocks in front of businesses, which would allow for a bike path, greenery, benches, and picnic tables beside the current sidewalk space. “That’s the trade-off,” Blommel said. “We’ve got more amenities for pedestrians, but we’re losing the center left turn.” Mayor Ronda Bjornson observed that the added concrete area could give local businesses more space to work with, if there was a continued need for outdoor dining space. Roeschlein also noted that the proposed layout was inspired by the current highway layout in the city of Glenwood.
Maintenance manager Jake Weinreich asked how much parking space the new layout would provide, and Blommel clarified that parking space was slightly reduced in this design, to about a 10-foot block. “The central office of MnDOT shot down our idea for 12-foot parking,” Blommel said.
MnDOT would be able to provide an in-town demonstration this spring, providing a temporary construction simulating the proposed layout, Blommel said. Following this demonstration, the council would need to hold a public hearing on the layout, and then they could approve their final decision for the layout.
“I like this model, personally,” said Bjornson, adding that Isle’s layout had no issues without a center-turn lane. Roeschlein also drew attention to bump-outs on the new sidewalk layout, which would help make pedestrians more visible. “It seems like the DOT is really bending over backwards for us,” Roeschlien added, “trying to accommodate extra workshops, meetings and discussion.”
Councilor Tony Button indicated a space near the northern end of town, just south of the Veteran’s Park. While the space was undeveloped under the current proposed layout, Button suggested it could be put to use for boat parking. “I think we should give that some thought,” he said, “before that goes back to being green space.”
Button also asked about how the curve coming into town from the south would be changed under the new layout. Blommel said that the shoulders would be widened and some of the elevation would be eliminated. “We are trying to make it less of a racetrack curve. “We are trying to make drivers a little more uncomfortable along that curve,” he stated. “In my world, an uncomfortable driver is a slow, cautious driver, so that’s a plus.”
Button further asked about the timing of the project, noting that it had been in the works for over eight years. Blommel indicated that there was a chance that, if the project wasn’t implemented by 2024, it could be delayed to 2025. However, Roeschlein added that this would align the project with other developments and amenities for the City along the Soo Line trail. In turn, this would allow for easier cash flow for both projects.
Blommel’s letter to the council indicates that City costs associated with the project are still a work in progress, but an application through the Transportation Alternatives Grant program had been submitted, which would cover 70% of the cost of pedestrian amenities, lighting, and enhanced crosswalks. Data from a presentation given to the council on Thursday, Feb. 10, shows that eligible costs covered by the grant totalled $437,851, with a 20% matching contribution of $106,963 from the City. As the funds would be available in 2025, Blommel added there would be a cost savings if the project was delayed until that time.