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MnDOT brings big ideas to the table; Plans include safety revamp of area around WDC

Pictured are illustrations of possible road safety improvement options around the schools in Wadena, as included in the Draft Wadena Transportation Plan presented to the Planning Commission on Tuesday. Photo by Zach Kayser, Pioneer Journal

A long list of new possibilities to help make Wadena's transportation network run more smoothly was offered to the Planning Commission on Tuesday.

The commission took in a presentation by experts from a firm hired by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to analyze ways to improve Wadena's overall growth plans and provide specific ideas for the future of the roads and railways that run through town.

SRF Consulting Group spent a large portion of their time talking about how the Wadena traffic system could be made more efficient and more pedestrian-friendly. What is most likely to be built in the near future is a series of redesigns to the area around Wadena-Deer Creek (WDC) Middle/High School, WDC Elementary and M State, said City Administrator Brad Swenson. The new measures would be intended to make walking and biking around Colfax Avenue/Highway 29 and Second Street Southwest safer for students.

Although plans are still in the preliminary stages, Swenson said possible changes to the roadway might include extending the curb near crosswalks to reduce the distance kids have to walk in order to cross, as well as adding traffic speed sensors.

Swenson also said the project might be completed as soon as 2014 if the city and county land key funding from the state government via a Safe Routes to School grant, which would completely cover the new changes.

"If the grant gets approved, there's a good chance of that happening," Swenson said. "With 100 percent funding ... I'm not sure why you wouldn't take it, but you never know."

Planning Commission Member Joey McQuiston welcomed the idea of changes around the school zone. He said he doesn't let his kids ride their bikes around that area, out of concern for their safety.

"I just say 'You can't go to that street' because there's not even a (thoroughfare) with their bikes, or walking, or anything," McQuiston said.

Another transportation concept given by SRF at the meeting included the establishment of a "quiet zone" on the railway running through Wadena, where train operators wouldn't have to sound their horns as they pass through town. Craig Vaughn of SRF said that making a quiet zone would entail improvements to where cars cross the railway, so as to ensure that the crossings remain safe. However, he also said, statistically, the establishment of quiet zones actually improves safety at crossings, and similar quiet zones have functioned well in Fargo-Moorhead without any incidents that he's seen.

Swenson said SRF is currently working on the Safe Routes to School Grant application, which must be submitted by Feb. 15.