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Phil Martin, engineer for Bolton & Menk, explains the pros and cons of different road widths with city council members as they consider a comprehensive infrastructure project on the southeast side of Wadena.

Council moves toward truck route, narrowing some streets

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Knowing the impact of their decisions will reverberate for decades, Wadena city leaders spent nearly two hours Monday closely examining the upcoming southeast infrastructure project.

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For an estimated $9.4 million, the city plans to rebuild the streets, sidewalks, sewers and water network in 2015 and 2016. Southeast residents are expected to foot 20 percent of the bill for most of the project through special assessments, while all Wadena residents would split the rest through property taxes.

At the special Monday council meeting, members offered input on a design team's updated recommendations. By consensus, the council agreed to narrow some residential streets, tweak the sidewalk grid and to create a route to divert truck traffic from non-commercial areas. The decisions are neither final nor prescriptive, leaving countless block-by-block details to be figured out later.

Given much of the infrastructure is 70 to 90 years old, there was general agreement at a February public forum that "we have to do something in southeast," said engineer Phil Martin, senior project manager for Bolton & Menk. The sewer and water portions aren't controversial, he said, but residents have plenty of opinions regarding road widths and sidewalks.

Since the February meeting, Martin has met twice with the design team - the police chief, city administrator, public works director, electric and water superintendent, planning and zoning director - to hash out more detailed recommendations based on the input of residents and city leaders.

Martin asked the council to provide direction Monday so engineers have enough time to finish final design by the end of the year.

Street width, truck route

At a January council work session, Martin's presentation included an option to narrow some of Wadena's 46-foot wide residential streets.

That proposal was initially met with skepticism from some council members and from several southeast residents, who wondered how it would affect traffic flow and parking.

On Monday, Martin presented the design team recommendation that calls for 36-foot wide streets in much of the residential area south of Dayton Avenue, while largely maintaining wider streets in predominantly commercial zone to the north. The streets south of Dayton that are currently narrower than 36 feet would be widened to create uniformity.

City Administrator Brad Swenson pointed out that, if implemented, the plan would keep about one-third of southeast's roads the same width, shrink one-third and widen one-third.

Not only would the narrower streets shrink costs by approximately $600,000, Martin said, it would add 2.3 acres of green space while reducing pavement by 11 percent, easing the storm sewer system's runoff burden.

He said the 36-foot streets would also create a "natural calming effect," making the roads unappealing to truckers and generally reducing traffic speeds.

"It's a paradigm shift that might be insurmountable," Martin said, acknowledging doubts among some members of the public.

The narrower streets would still allow two-way traffic with parking on both sides of the street, just at slower speeds, he said.

Public Works Director Dan Kovar said the change would mean crews would have to clear less snow and have more places to put it.

Winter parking restrictions, "are something that needs to be looked at," Kovar said.

Since the February forum, the design team has continued to focus on ways to keep Wadena's ubiquitous truck traffic out of residential areas. Narrower streets are part of the equation. So is a well-marked designated truck route, enforced by the police department.

After discussing alternatives, the team stuck with the initial engineering recommendation to create a loop extending from Jefferson down Aldrich Avenue, along 4th Street and cutting back to Jefferson via Dayton Avenue.

The truck route would be 46-feet wide and would feature stronger pavement to handle heavier weights than the adjacent streets, where signs would indicate trucks are prohibited.

Sidewalks

The design team is recommending a few changes to the city sidewalk grid.

Within the designated sidewalk zone - the southeast portion extends from the railroad tracks to Garfield Avenue and from Jefferson to 2nd Street - there would be sidewalks on both sides of the street.

Outside of that zone, they would only be on one side of the street. Some sidewalks would be added to create continuity. Others might be abandoned, depending on the wishes of homeowners.

Much of the limited new sidewalk construction would be along one side of the designated truck route, particularly along 4th Street.

As final design continues, Martin said, engineers may determine some existing sidewalks don't require replacement, which would reduce projected costs.

Storm sewer

Engineers expect it will cost nearly $2 million to revamp stormwater sewers on the southeast side of town.

Because right now the storm sewers flow directly into Union Creek - a state designated trout stream - Martin said Monday he believes the city might be able to secure money for part of the project through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. To make the proposal more appealing to the agency, he presented a revised plan that calls for treatment ponds to provide a natural buffer between the sewers and Union Creek. Reduced runoff from narrower streets, he said, would also be a good selling point.

To potentially save additional money, Martin advised the council to investigate the conditions of the pipe.

"We can start to shave cost if they're able to save existing pipe," he said.

The inspection "would pay for itself," Kovar said.

The council authorized Kovar to hire a firm to inspect some of the sewers.

Public forum set

Near the end of Monday's meeting, the council agreed without a formal vote to proceed with the design team's recommendations.

"I haven't heard any serious objections to anything," Swenson said.

Members determined the public needs another chance to weigh in on the project.

"These are some pretty drastic changes," said Councilman Toby Pierce. "If we're going to make those changes, we should have a public meeting."

The council scheduled a forum for 5 to 7 p.m. May 20. Due to the interest in the February meeting, which packed the council chambers despite wicked winter weather, the council decided to look for a larger venue. The location will be announced shortly.

Martin suggested the city host a grill-out, perhaps with free hot dogs and ice cream, to attract as many southeast residents as possible. "I just want people to show up."

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