A $7.3 million College Drive reconstruction project won't be happening.
Instead, after more than two hours of testimony from members of the public Monday, the Brainerd City Council established a small committee to address safety concerns along College Drive from Crow Wing County Road 48 to the intersection of Quince Street.
"I don't see it as dead," said council member Mary Koep in making the motion. "I see it as new beginning."
Koep's motion followed two failed motions.
The first, made by council member Lucy Nesheim, wanted the Project Management Team to look again at the project on Nov. 22, taking into account testimony received Monday night.
Koep said it was a ruse to go past the Nov. 2 election. She said she wanted a smaller project without using the city's consulting engineer, WSB, which has already been paid more than $800,000 in fees.
"From the first time this project came before the council I said let's focus on safety and nothing else," Koep said. "The project manager saw money to be made and God bless them, they made it."
While council member Anne Nelson Fisher wasn't in favor of the time frame, she supported having the management team involved. Council member Bonnie Cumberland agreed.
Nesheim's motion was defeated by a 4-3 vote, with council members Koep, Bob Olson, Kelly Bevans and Kevin Goedker opposed.
Olson was against Nesheim's motion because without first finding out whether there were the required five votes to proceed with the project there would be no reason to continue to meet with the Project Management Team.
Olson's motion to not proceed with the College Drive project as presented also failed by a 4-3 vote, with council members Nesheim, Cumberland, Bevans and Fisher against. Bevans said he wouldn't vote for a motion that did nothing.
With Koep's committee established, Cumberland said she was concerned because the three council members on the committee - Koep, Olson and Goedker - have been against the project.
"I want to give (the project) some breath of life," Cumberland said. "I know I shouldn't doubt the purity of their intentions."
Koep said she wasn't offended and would have asked the same thing had she been in Cumberland's shoes. Olson suggested representatives of Central Lakes College, the Brainerd School District and of the adjacent apartments.
From four alternatives ranging in price from about $5.5 million to $7.5, the council in May chose the most expensive option, which included roundabouts at Mississippi River Parkway, Southwest Fourth Street and South Fourth Street; a stop light at Quince and South Fifth streets; a Cuyuna State Trail extension; sidewalks; bridge improvements, including a pedestrian underpass; pedestrian crosswalks, flashers and deterrents; and a backage road to accommodate the apartment buildings.
On Monday, the council was presented another option, which dropped the estimated project cost by $1.1 million by eliminating a signal light at Quince and South Fifth streets, eliminating a sidewalk west of Southwest Sixth Street and other reductions, and lowering estimated project costs. The reductions were negotiated with the Brainerd School District and Central Lakes College, though the school board hasn't considered it yet.
The vote came almost three hours after the public hearing stated.
Many who spoke were against the $6.3 million to $7.4 million project, and many others were upset that to reduce the cost the city took out safety options.
"This whole project, from Day One, the catalyst has been public safety," city council candidate Jeff Czeczok said. "That intersection (South Fifth and Quince streets) is probably the worst intersection in the city and you're recommending removing signal lights?"
Czeczok also questioned the credibility of city staff in giving information to the council. He noted despite what's been said, the four-lane road will only go to South Fourth Street, that state aid could be used for a complete reconditioning.
Goedker stopped Czeczok, and warned him if he continued to talk he wouldn't be allowed back up. Czeczok sat down and was allowed to come back to the microphone later in the meeting.
Another council candidate, Steve Wolff, said the $6.3 proposal decreased safety. He suggested building a bridge behind the college, across the river to Jenny Street.
Betty Anda, one of the owners of Colonywood Apartments, said having a four-lane road would cause safety issues and could potentially drive down the value of her property.
"Seven million dollars for one mile of road? I cant barely comprehend it," Anda said. "Think if the impact it's going to have. It's going to be overwhelming."
Byron Dezurik, a resident of the apartments, worried about kids not being able to play outside and crime increasing.
"Believe me, if that road goes through all it will do is jeopardize us," Dezurik said.
"Just leave it alone, gentlemen. ... We don't want it. We like (College Drive) just the way it is."
Kari Christiansen, vice president of administrative services at CLC, has been part of the Project Management Team when it started 2.5 years ago and said safety has always been a concern at the college. She said CLC and the school district brought forth the proposal to reduce costs by eliminating a signal light and sidewalks as a way to move the project forward.
"College Drive is critical to the city of Brainerd and the residents we serve," Christiansen said. "We need to take steps to improve safety along that corridor."
Olson mentioned he had met with school district representatives, CLC representatives and city staff last week to discuss the proposal but said he was against it. Olson also previously said he was against the project if the district and CLC wouldn't donate right-of-way for the project to reduce costs to Brainerd taxpayers.
Council candidate Ed Shaw said he was in favor of the project and the city needed to do what was best for the citizens and the community.
"You've talked about it for two years; you need to move forward on it," Shaw said.
Council candidate Guy Green said in the past year and-a-half he's been following the council there have been decisions made on bad information, including cuts to the fire department. With College Drive, he doubted traffic counts would go from 13,000 to 15,000 a day to 28,000-32,000 by 2030.
"Those numbers are made up," Green said.
Council candidate Jan Burton said other streets, like Willow and Wright, need repairs, not College Drive. She said the city should forget the frills and only do what is necessary. Ccouncil candidate Dan Egan noted College Drive wouldn't be a raceway under the proposed redesign.
Pat O'Brien, owner of TCBX, said roundabouts were a bad idea for semi-trucks and the city needed to look some place else to build a road. Mike Murphy, who lives on College Road in Baxter, said he's been asking the council for years to put in sidewalks and has pointed out poor work along the roadway, but he said a new road should go somewhere else.
"We can't afford this at this time," Murphy said.
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