BAXTER — Extending Isle Drive is a priority for the Baxter City Council, but it isn’t likely to happen next year.
That was the consensus Tuesday during a work session to discuss transportation plans, particularly the extension of Isle Drive from Glory Road to Crow Wing County Highway 48.
Isle Drive goes past Walmart and Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Baxter Clinic. The city plans to extend the road to the south as it winds across Potlatch land between Perch Lake and Highway 371 before connecting to county Highway 48, also known as Highland Scenic Drive.
Questions before the council session included whether the road should be 44 or 52 feet wide with rural road features or city curb and gutter. Should it include a center turn lane or bike and pedestrian lanes? Should the trail, already existing on the west side, be added on the east side of the road as well?
Trevor Walter, public works director/city engineer, said Crow Wing County is willing to pay half of an anticipated $12,000 traffic study cost to look at options for the intersection connection.
At minimum, Isle Drive would need a four-way stop as it connects to Highland Scenic Drive, which continues to the east linking with Highway 371. But with traffic expected to increase from 3,500 vehicles per day to 9,500 vehicles at the new intersection as the area is fully developed, the question was whether a four-way stop would be enough to manage traffic — even from day one.
Ultimately, Walter said, the county would like to have a roundabout at the intersection. But there are concerns at how well traffic would flow there so close to the Highway 371 signal light intersection.
That is where officials hope a traffic study will help.
Isle Drive would be a new northern leg at the intersection with Highland Scenic and Ironwood drives. The four-legged intersection would mean a realignment of a portion of Ironwood Drive.
Whether the new intersection is managed by a signal light or a roundabout will make a difference to the city in the amount of right of way to be acquired.
Walter said there is already a problem with left-turning traffic going from Highland Scenic Drive north on Highway 371 as vehicles are backed up deeper than the turn lane allows. A future fix may be in adding two left-turning lanes onto Highway 371.
In addition, Walter said the Safe Routes to School proponents said drivers are passing illegally on the right at the current Ironwood intersection.
With the school zone and existing traffic count, Walter said he thought adding Isle Drive to the mix will require a stop light there.
Council member Todd Holman said it would be important to weigh in with the student pedestrian and bike traffic in the area and what was safest. Statistics show roundabouts are safer for pedestrians, Holman said.
While the council noted there was a desire to move forward with the Isle Drive extension in 2013, the study would likely delay that now for a year or possibly two.
Council member Mark Cross said it didn’t make sense to build the intersection now only to have to redo it in a few years.
Another consideration is how to create access roads for the homes in the area currently sharing a drive that would be too close to the new Isle Drive intersection. Walter said a proposal would be to set up an access road off Isle Drive for three of the homes and look at possibly having one home close to Highland Scenic Drive still access there.
Other questions before the city are whether to extend sewer and water in the residential area toward Perch Lake or make Isle Drive a controlled access road, where future development would have predetermined connection areas to the new road.
Council member Jim Klein said he knows everyone is big on the roundabouts but he’d rather see how they work on College Drive. The roundabouts opened to traffic on College Drive on Monday.
Council members also considered establishing a start of a trail and then requiring developers to connect a sidewalk or trail along the east side of Isle Drive.
In the end, the council agreed the traffic study made sense so they could see the costs and benefits of the options with a lot of questions that have to be answered on the road’s design.
Mayor Darrel Olson said: “We need to start with the traffic study.”