A plan to reconstruct U.S. Highway 53 and revamp its appearance leading into International Falls will move forward, and include the removal of a traffic signal at Seventh Street.
The Falls City Council Monday unanimously approved a resolution providing consent for the nearly $14 million reconstruction project, as required by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The project will begin south of Memorial Drive and end north of Second Avenue, with construction expected to begin in March or April and end in 2022 with landscaping improvements.
MnDOT has said it plans to remove the signal at Seventh Street because it does not meet the standards for a signal, noting vehicle counts and other issues. The plan earlier called also for removal of the traffic signal at 11th Street, but city officials convinced MnDOT to leave it in the plan because of the cross-town traffic, its use as a "Safe Route to School" for bike and pedestrian traffic, and other nearby uses.
However, councilors said they could not convince MnDOT of the need for the Seventh Street signal, which, with the city's consent, will not be included in the plan.
Councilors acknowledged concerns about removal of the Seventh Street signal voiced at a public hearing Oct. 2 by owners of Northern Lumber Co. and Lakes Gas, and others, and earlier by former Mayor Bob Anderson, but said city officials will monitor traffic safety and any transportation issues following completion of the project.
Should the intersection pose further safety concerns after completion of the reconstruction project, the city could consider adding its own signal, noting the city's cost at about $255,000 with a lifetime of maintenance, Mayor Harley Droba and other councilors agreed.
Meanwhile, Councilor Walt Buller said questions he posed at the hearing have been satisfied with information received from MnDOT. He said he was informed traffic counts were taken in August, 2018, so they included tourist traffic, among other answers he sought.
Estimated costs of the project include $10 million to $11.5 million from MnDOT and from $1.3 million to $1.5 million from the city.
In other business, city Administrator Ken Anderson told the council Monday that he'd received applications from six people, so far, seeking appointment to the at-large council position, vacated when Droba was appointed to fill out the rest of Mayor Bob Anderson's term, following his sudden death.
The council has agreed to take applications until noon Friday from candidates for the at-large council position, with the plan to interview all candidates, at 20-minute intervals, starting at 1 p.m. Oct. 14. An appointment to the at-large position is expected at a 5 p.m. Oct. 15 special council meeting.
In other action, the council:
- Heard no comment during a hearing on the first reading of an ordinance amending the city's code and zoning map to change zoning of property within the first addition to the International Falls Business Park, located off 22nd Street, and later approved a preliminary plat for the business park, owned by the Koochiching Economic Development Authority.
- Approved delinquent water and sewer bills, and delinquent blight and grass invoices, to be certified to the Koochiching County Auditor for collection.
- Hired Dan Sweney as firefighter engineer, based on the International Falls Fire Department Civil Service testing process and approved expenses at a training session in November.
- Agreed to hire Brian Kelly for a maintenance 1 position, vacated by Sweney.
- Hired Marylin Hannan and Linda Barnett, in positions of EMT-B, on the ambulance roster.
- Appointed Ashley Kostiuk to a three-year term on the Library Board of Trustees.
- Approved the mayor's appointments to the 2020 Census Complete Count Committee.
- Agreed to advertise for candidates to serve on internal and external committees, and accepted Jerry Franzen's resignation from the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.
- Heard in Droba's mayor report that in the process of clearing out the office used by former Mayor Anderson he found: grandma's buttermilk pancake recipe; an "I love trains" sticker; many, many forks; a photo taken in the 1960s of Anderson curling in front of bagpipers with an "I love International Falls" button; four pounds of paperclips, and his thoughts on paper from the man who "dedicated his life to his community."