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Engineer presents preliminary design for southeast infrastructure project to city council

Top: This image shows what 46 foot wide streets look like. Most of Wadena's streets are this wide, but the as the city council considers more than $9 million in infrastructure improvement to the southeast side of town, it is debating whether to reduce the width of residential streets. Bottom: This image show what one option, a 36 foot wide street, would look like.

The last comprehensive infrastructure project in Wadena in the late 90s revamped the water network, storm sewers, sanitary sewers, streets and sidewalks on the north side of the city.

With that project nearly paid for, it's the southeast section's turn.

"We're trying to work our way around the city. This will be a never-ending process," said Brad Swenson, city administrator. "You can only do so much at a time because of the cost."

During a two-hour special Wadena City Council meeting Thursday, an engineer from Bolton and Menk, Inc. presented his firm's preliminary design for the southeast project, expected to cost more than $9 million. Council members asked questions, shared opinions and scheduled a public meeting for Feb. 20 at 5:30 p.m. in order to get input before proceeding.

After considering residents' comments, the council will direct engineers on the specifics of what it wants included in the project. Then the firm will spend much of the next year completing final design, while the city determines the best way to pay for the improvements.

The plan is to be ready for bids by next February, with construction beginning May 2015. The project is slated to be completed over two years, with the south half of southeast finished in 2015 and the north half in 2016. It could be extended a third year, depending on how financing shakes out.

"It's just too big of a project to do in one year," Swenson said.

No one on the council has advocated dropping or delaying the replacement of the deteriorating infrastructure, some of which is 70 to 90 years old. The questions they face concern exactly how to do it.

While members are likely to defer to the experts on the water network and sewer systems, the surface features are up for debate.

Should - and if so, where should - the city develop truck routes to keep big rigs off of residential streets? How wide should new streets be? Should the sidewalk network be expanded, shrunk or kept the same? What about bike routes?

Over the past three months, engineers met with a group of city department heads four times for input as they developed the preliminary design.

"Now we've got to get into the nitty gritty and make this happen," said Bolton and Menk engineer Phil Martin, at the beginning of his Thursday presentation.

New truck routes, streets, sidewalks

The most visible piece of the comprehensive infrastructure project is the reconstruction of southeast Wadena's streets, which presents an opportunity to deal with a persistent problem with the city's road network: truck traffic on residential streets.

Martin presented preliminary plans for designated truck routes. One possibility is creating a loop for trucks that would extend from Jefferson Street down Dayton Avenue Southeast to Fourth Street Southeast and back to Jefferson via Aldrich Avenue Southeast.

"You could essentially keep trucks in the area that we've prepared for them," Martin said.

Enforcement of the route, he said, is essential.

Wadena Police Chief Naomi Plautz told the council her department would fine drivers who entered residential areas, if the route were approved.

"Eventually, they are going to learn that they don't belong on those streets," Swenson said.

Martin also presented options to potentially reduce the width of some southeast residential streets. Most of them are 46-feet wide, but they could be shrunk to 36 or 32 feet. The truck routes and streets in the commercial district would likely remain the same width.

Reducing residential road width by 10 feet would lower the cost of replacement of sidewalks and streets from $4.4 million to $4.2 million. Martin said it would also create two more acres of green space, reduce stormwater runoff, make residential streets less appealing to truckers and reduce speeds for all traffic. He provided the council with visuals depicting how streets would look for each scenario.

"How would you like traffic to be in your residential areas?," Martin asked the council.

The five members responded in unison: "Slow!"

Members asked Martin about how the change would affect parking and snowplowing.

Mayor Wayne Wolden said he would like to see Wadena ban overnight parking on all streets throughout the winter.

Public Works Director Dan Kovar said that would make plowing much easier, but Council Member Jeanette Baymler expressed reservations about the idea.

At 36 feet, there would be enough space for cars to park on both sides of the street, Martin said, but large vehicles might have to drive more slowly. A 32-foot-wide street would only leave enough room for parking on one side and would require winter parking restrictions.

"Thirty-two feet would be really, really tight," Baymler said. "I wouldn't want to see that." Other council members agreed.

The conversation turned to sidewalks. Martin asked the council to consider whether it wanted to have sidewalks on both sides of all streets, one side of streets or some other combination. There are a few gaps in the network, and he wondered whether the council wanted them filled.

Some sidewalks are still in pretty good shape, he said.

"If we don't need to replace something," Martin said, "we don't need to spend the money to replace it."

Wolden predicted sidewalks are "going to be hugely debated and controversial ... People have to maintain them and pay for them."

Council Member Gillette Kempf asked Martin whether engineers had considered bike paths.

"We do want to do bike corridors," Martin said, noting the council will need to decide how that should be done.

"This is wipe the slate clean. What do you want ultimately to get done?"

Water networks, sewers

Earlier in the meeting, Martin addressed the scheduled replacement of the water distribution network.

This part of the project would replace all existing pipes, many of which are undersized. The larger pipes would create greater capacity to allow for increased demand from development and for firefighting.

The projected cost to replace southeast's water distribution system is $1.6 million. That's nearly $500,000 less than engineers predicted at a July 2013 open house.

"Water is a costly thing, but it's pretty straightforward," Martin said.

He then presented the engineer's preliminary plan to upgrade the storm sewer system. Complete replacement of the system would cost about $1.8 million, up $400,000 from the July prediction.

"If we can salvage any of the existing storm sewer pipe then maybe we can cut into that," Martin said.

What can be saved and what must be replaced will be determined through tests later this year as the engineers develop a final design. This part of the project calls for relocating storm sewer runoff to different outfalls at Union Creek.

Martin also asked the council to consider options to reroute water away from Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, because the basement of the building floods during large rain events.

"It seems we should be obligated to do something about that," Wolden said.

Addressing this issue would add to the cost. Council members agreed to discuss possible solutions with the cooperative.

Most - if not all - of southeast's sanitary sewer system will also be replaced during the two-year project.

Engineers proposed rerouting some of the pipes. All of the city's waste flows into a 18-inch pipe on the eastern edge of town that flows to the treatment plant. It appears there is enough capacity in the system, Martin said.

The sanitary sewer project is expected to cost around $1.6 million - more than $80,000 less than projected in July.

Financing undetermined

To fund the project, the city will try to get a low-interest 10-to 20 year loan through the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority, a state agency that provides funding for municipal projects, Swenson said. Ideally, part of the loan would be eligible for forgiveness, which would reduce long-term costs.

Another option is borrowing through the United State Department of Agriculture. The downside, Swenson said, is such a loan would have a 40-year lifetime.

Wadena could always sell municipal bonds to pay for the project, but interest rates would be higher than with the loans.

Swenson said he is looking for other funding sources, such as grants, that could reduce the overall cost. And he hopes the county, which has jurisdiction over some of the roads through town, pitches in.

However it's financed, residents will end up paying off the debt. The cost will be split among southeast Wadena property owners, who will fund 20 percent of the debt payments on most projects through special assessments, and the city's other property owners, who will foot 80 percent of the debt payments through property taxes.

Without knowing where the money will come from or how much the project will end up costing, Swenson said he isn't able to offer an estimate on the cost per resident.

In 10 or 15 years, Swenson said, the ongoing process will turn to the southwest side of town, beginning with the oldest section closest to downtown and continuing, in phases, to the city limits.

"It's not real glorious. It's not pretty," Swenson said. "But your town is only as good as what you have for infrastructure."