The reconstruction of U.S. Highway 53 and its streetscape was the focus of an informational meeting Wednesday that drew few comments from the public.
The meeting, conducted by the International Falls City Council, about the $14 million project involves the street, sidewalks, and boulevards on Highway 53 from Memorial Drive to Second Street. The Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to award bids in March with construction commencing after, and continuing into 2021, when the project is expected to be complete.
Mayor Harley Droba told The Journal that three people other than the council and city staff attended, with two people — Brian Briggs and Mark Koerbitz — asking about safety issues; the plan by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to remove a traffic signal at Seventh Street; how long-term maintenance of the highway and streetscape improvements would be paid and by who; and when MnDOT gathered numbers on the vehicle count at Seventh Street.
In addition, he said the council received three letters detailing concerns about the removal of the Seventh Street traffic signal and how that would impact Northern Lumber and Lakes Gas in their future plans. Letters were received from the late Mayor Bob Anderson, Koochiching Economic Development Authority Board, and an email from Lakes Gas Co.
Droba said Robert Thompson of Northern Lumber also attended, but did not speak during the meeting.
The council is expected to discuss the input and council concerns when it meets for a regular meeting Monday, and will consider providing municipal consent for the project, as required by MnDOT prior to an Oct. 23 deadline. The deadline for the city to provide consent has been extended by MnDOT once already at the city’s request. The council is expected to consider action on the consent at its Oct. 21 meeting.
City Administrator Ken Anderson has told the council it may provide consent, or consent with conditions.
In the meantime, Droba said councilors will follow up by getting answers to questions posed at the meeting, as well as seeking more information from constituents about the plan.
Mayor Anderson earlier voiced concerns about MnDOT’s plan to remove the signal there, saying nearby businesses, Northern Lumber and Lakes Gas, will be affected. In June, Anderson wrote to the council that Northern Lumber plans to tear down the former Holiday Gas Station it owns across Highway 53 from its main location and replace it with a warehouse. He said owner Thompson is concerned the loss of the traffic signal may impact their ability to easily move materials to the warehouse.
In addition, he said John Schenck, Lakes Gas, on Second Street across from the city’s garage, has purchased buildings on the east side of the avenue with plans to install additional storage tanks, and have propane delivered by rail car. Trucks would be filled with propane there for delivery to communities southeast of the city.
Anderson wrote that because the trucks will enter Third Avenue at Seventh Street, Lakes Gas officials are concerned about the plan to remove the traffic signal and have asked that it remain.
Anderson had said he’d asked MnDOT to reconsider removing the light, and suggested the city could pay for maintenance of the signal. But MnDOT has maintained the traffic numbers at the intersection do not warrant a signal, and removal would help traffic move through the community.