The Stillwater City Council is backing a request by area businesses to leave right turn-off access between Highway 36 and the North Frontage Road intact. The city council directed staff to send a letter to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, urging the agency to consider the request.
The decision came after Mayor Ken Harycki and City Administrator Larry Hansen attended a meeting with MnDOT and area businesses April 30. Joe Kohler of Joseph’s Family Restaurant, and other business owners on the north side of Highway 36 requested MnDOT leave right turn-on and right turn-off access to the frontage road open between Osgood Avenue and Greeley Street.
Business owners are concerned the elimination of the access will hurt sales. MnDOT says it’s closing the access due to safety concerns. But business owners pointed out that access to the south frontage road will remain open, even though there have been eight accidents reported at the intersection on the south side in the last year, and none on the north.
“They were just saying, ‘We want to be treated the same as the businesses on the south side,’” Harycki said.
Councilmember Mike Polehna was hesitant due to safety concerns.
“I don’t think we need to make a snap decision,” he said. “They’re redoing all those intersections to make it a lot safer and easier to get out of there. … You’re going to have more traffic coming through there a lot faster.”
Harycki and Councilmember Ted Kozlowksi said the it should be no different than the south side of the highway. Kozlowski said the intersection needs to be safe and doesn’t believe MnDOT will do something it knows is unsafe.
“I’d hate to think that we could push MnDOT into doing something that’s not safe,” Kozlowski said. But if MnDOT is managing the safety risks on the south side, he asked why it wouldn’t work on the north as well.
Nevertheless, Polehna was hesitant.
“I don’t have a problem with it if they can make it safe,” Polehna said. “But if it’s marginal, I’d say no. I’m going to err on the side of safety.”
Councilmember Doug Menikheim questioned whether the city had a “dog in the fight,” because most of the businesses behind the request are actually located in Oak Park Heights.
Harycki said the city does have an interest, because there are Stillwater businesses near the intersection, and the intersection itself is in Stillwater.
In the end, the council concluded that it would support right turn-off access to the frontage road from Highway 36 if it could be done safely. It decided that access to get on the highway from the frontage road was less important.
The council voted 4-0 to direct city staff to send a letter to MnDOT indicated the council’s support. Councilmember Tom Weidner was absent.
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