The Brainerd Lakes Chamber, with an office in Pequot Lakes, announced Thursday it is recommending the alignment of the four-lane expansion of Highway 371 through Pequot Lakes rather than a bypass of the city.
RuthAnn Hanson, Brainerd Lakes Chamber area director, said the chamber's recommendation was made following a series of meetings and surveys conducted the last 10 months.
"The through town route will allow our community to move forward," Hanson said. "Businesses and residents will immediately be able to plan for their future with the through town route.
"If it's a bypass we're afraid it will delay investment and development in Pequot Lakes. That is a huge concern."
The Pequot Lakes City Council will hear testimony from several groups at its Dec. 3 meeting. A special meeting will be Dec. 18 at which the council will make its final decision.
In a news release, the chamber said its position was based on a number of reasons:
- The bypass construction route is uncertain. The earliest projected starting date is 2015-2016 in the Nisswa area, depending on funding. The chamber believes that commercial investment in Pequot Lakes will languish until at least 2020 or beyond depending on if and when the bypass is constructed.
- A through town route maintains the expectations of all involved and stagnation of the community will occur if a bypass route is selected. The bypass at the earliest will be completed in 10 years, the chamber reported, adding at worst, it may never be built.
- Neighboring communities along the expansion project - Nisswa, Jenkins and Pine River - have all decided to keep the existing highway alignment. The study by Region Five of shoppers in Pequot Lakes showed that 59 percent thought the visibility of the businesses was important.
- Traffic levels will return to their current levels on existing Highway 371 by 2030 with a bypass so pedestrian safety issues won't be resolved with a bypass. A decision for the through-town route would result in business confidence that would immediately be translated into near-term construction, improvement to existing structures and development. An example of this is that 23 percent of the businesses who responded to the Region Five survey indicated they would expand if the highway remained in its current alignment.
- A bypass may not have overpasses.
The chamber helped facilitate community and business meetings on the highway alternatives and participated in the bypass study group meetings. The chamber partnered with the city of Pequot Lakes, Initiative Foundation and businesses to facilitate studies and a public meeting on Oct. 25 that presented information about both alternatives.
"Our goal was to get all the information out there, to gather all the information we can on both routes," Hanson said. "After all the information was gathered, these new things, key things, came out that helped us form our recommendations."
In 2004, the Pequot Lakes City Council passed a resolution supporting a four-lane Highway 371 along its current path in downtown Pequot Lakes. That alignment was adopted as the preferred route by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
However, in 2006, the city council decided a four-mile bypass east of downtown should be studied. An Alternate Route Study Group, consisting of city council and planning commission members, took testimony at several meetings this year and determined there were no outstanding issues that would inhibit construction of a bypass.
Originally slated for construction in 2010, the Highway 371 four-lane expansion project from Nisswa to Pine River has a tentative construction start date of 2015 or 2016. The impetus behind the project, according to MnDOT, is safety and mobility improvements. The estimated cost of the entire project is $90 million.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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