Brainerd will move forward with a $6.9 million College Drive reconstruction project.
In a 4-3 vote Monday night, the Brainerd City Council approved a project that will include four lanes from Crow Wing County Road 48 to South Fourth Street; roundabouts at Mississippi River Parkway, Southwest Fourth Street and South Fourth Street; a stop light at Quince and South Fifth streets; trails; sidewalks; bridge improvements; pedestrian crosswalks, flashers and deterrents; and a backage road to accommodate the apartment buildings. The road is designed for 30 mph with 20 mph roundabouts.
The motion ordering in the project was approved by council members Lucy Nesheim, Bonnie Cumberland, Anne Nelson Fisher and Kelly Bevans. Voting against were council member Mary Koep, Bob Olson and Kevin Goedker. The council also approved directing the consulting engineers and city attorney and proceeding with right-of-way acquisition and having the original Project Management Team reconvene as soon as possible.
Koep, Olson and Goedker, as members of the College Drive Council Committee created after the council's Oct. 18 vote to not pursue the $6.9 million project, had presented a three-lane alternative that cost about $922,000 that would have been covered mostly with state aid funds, but with the approval of the $6.9 million project no action was taken on that alternative.
The council's vote comes after almost two years of discussion and votes regarding the College Drive reconstruction project. The issue appeared dead at the council's Oct. 18 meeting because of the large cost, but was revived Nov. 1 after City Engineer Jeff Hulsether informed council members that additional federal funding, now totaling about $3.4 million, was available for the project. Also planned for the project is $2,751,000 in current and future state aid and $750,000 in assessments.
Central Lakes College had petitioned for the project. Because CLC abuts at least 35 percent of the frontage along the project and presented a petition, a simple majority 4-3 vote - not a super majority 5-2 - was needed to order in the project.
Prior to voting, Nesheim said when the city switched South Sixth Street from two lanes to four lanes traffic accidents were reduced by 60 percent. She said a four-lane road is safer and the vision is greater.
"That road will be totally safe," Nesheim said.
Koep favored the three-lane alternative because it could accomplish what people wanted - addressing safety concerns while looking toward the future.
"It behooves us to make that road as absolutely safe as we can," Koep said.
"I beg you. I beg you. This is an opportunity."
Olson said he gave to issue a lot of thought, but couldn't support the four-lane project. He said future councils will have to look at another Mississippi River crossing instead.
Olson also had concerns with the amount of state aid to be used for the four-lane project. He noted there were many city streets that qualified for state aid that are in bad shape.
But what really changed his mind to opposing the four-lane, Olson said, was the lack of compromise on donating right-of-way from Central Lakes College and the Brainerd School District.
"Why are city taxpayers always the ones picking up the brunt of these things?" Olson asked "That's where I still have a problem with that."
Olson said though he wasn't in favor of it he would work to make the four-lane project as good a project as possible.
Cumberland, quoting a friend who has Alzheimer's, said "It is what it is." She said College Drive is a major arterial, whether people like it or not; that though renters may leave the adjacent apartments because of the project many more probably will show up because of the amenities of the project; and that if a another Mississippi River crossing were planned she would be supportive of a three-lane option.
"This is the project I think has the greatest potential right now," Cumberland said. "I'm all in favor of doing this project right ... We may want this to be a 'Mayberry RFD' road, but it's not."
Though he had no vote, Mayor James Wallin said the project was needed and he was pleased to see the major improvement would be taking place.
During an approximate hour and-a-half public hearing preceding the council's decision about 30 people - residents along the project, college students, area business owners, concerned residents, Central Lakes College officials, Brainerd Lakes Chamber - offered their opinions on what alternative they favored. About half said they were in favor of a four-lane project and about half wanted the three-lane alternative.
Several people questioned whether there was a conflict of interest for Fisher, as an employee of Central Lakes College, to vote on the project. City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick said he spoke with Fisher and she wouldn't gain financially from the decision and since no one has said she would gain or be sanctioned based on her vote, it wasn't a conflict of interest. Fisher also said no one from CLC had approached her about her vote.
Larry Kellerman, a CLC employee for the past 34 years who spoke on his own behalf, said nothing has been done with College Drive and despite ""11th hour naysayers" the city should move forward with the four-lane project.
"This project is the correct thing to do," Kellerman said.
Igor Lenzner, an attorney representing the co-owners of the Colonywood Apartments, questioned the legality of CLC's petition and whether the council followed the city charter by using a two-thirds vote while approving an assessment. Lenzner said his clients were opposed to the four-lane project.
James Martin, one of the co-owners of the Colonywood Apartments, noted Oct. 18, the day the council voted against the $6.9 million project before resurrecting it, was a "bell weather" day because the council did the right thing.
He said he was in favor of the council committee's alternative and it was "almost like magic" that more federal funds were found.
"We applauded your good judgment in that case and thought a four-lane through residential and a school area was a thing of the past," Martin said. "Soon thereafter we believe a plan was concocted by powerful forces ... ignoring the committee."
Ed Shaw, a Brainerd attorney and a former council candidate, said though he wasn't there as anybody's attorney he cautioned the council against making a decision based on Lenzner's statements and rather seek opinion from the city attorney. Shaw said while campaigning at the Colonywood Apartments people were about evenly split on the project.
"I'd ask you to make a decision based on the needs of the whole community, now and into the future," Shaw said.
Paul Seidenstricker, a resident of the apartments, said the problem with traffic isn't the road but the lack of control from the signal lights at Crow Wing County Road 48.
"As far as I'm concerned I want the kids to be safe," he said.
Sara Hayden said the college and the community aren't very well connected. She asked the council to not be penny wise but pound foolish by having to redo a three-lane project in another 20 years.
Several, including Mike Murphy, said the city was overspending or spending money, such as state aid and federal funds, that didn't belong to the city. Several others spoke in favor of bike trails for the project.
Mike Belisle, a truck driver and traffic crash investigator, was opposed to roundabouts, calling them "eye dams" that cause crashes. Another woman said roundabouts were dams in that they slowed traffic down. She and another speaker said once people learn to drive roundabouts they get used to them and enjoy them.
On roundabouts, Mike Moran of Reichert Bus Service said his problem wasn't for his drivers to negotiate them but the added driving decisions - 40,000 each school year he estimated - that his bus drivers would have to make because of them. Jeff Czeczok said having a four-lane road and roundabouts were wants, not needs.
John Forrest, a downtown business owner, said an east-west corridor through Brainerd was essentially and he liked the four-lane because it planned out for 20 years.
Dale Parks, who will be installed as the Ward 4 council member in 2011, preferred the four-lane project because it was being proactive instead of reactive.
Two residents feared their rent would go up because of the loss of property value to the apartment owners. Several other feared for the safety of kids with a four-lane project.
Guy Green said the council had it right when it voted against the four-lane project. He said the city could get by with a three-lane project because there is no possibility of businesses expanding on the road. Larry Lundblad, CLC president, said the project was more than just the short distance between the high school and college but part of a larger thoroughfare between Brainerd and Baxter. Lisa Paxton, Brainerd Lakes Chamber chief executive officer, also said the project needed to be looked at as a regional corridor.
Apartment resident Melissa Seidenstricker said it was ridiculous that the council would vote for a project because it would make it easier to get back and forth. She said the road is a school corridor that's not properly marked as such. Betty Anda, another co-owner of the apartments, said she was troubled that in all the time the city has been discussing the project it never had considered a three-lane proposal.
Nisswa resident Tony Bauer expressed "dismay and disappointment" that the council was so eager to accept federal money. Richard Burton pointed to the state and federal deficits and said the city was trying to fix something that didn't need to be fixed.
Former state representative Steve Wenzel said he supported a four-lane road for critical safety issues. John Newhouse, a business owner in Brainerd's industrial park, said from his point of view what was most important in terms of development in the park was looking ahead 10 or 15 years. A four-lane College Drive would do that, he said.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.