Time is running out for a decision from the Oak Park Heights City Council on a proposed design for redirecting the North Frontage Road at Osgood Avenue and Highway 36.
Although the city asked for a realignment of the frontage road, the council has concerns about future maintenance costs.
Early this year, Oak Park Heights City Administrator Eric Johnson told the council that plans for the reroute had been put on hold because the city was having difficulty acquiring the Carquest property.
Now the county and MnDOT have come up with a proposal that leaves Carquest intact, but MnDOT says it needs a decision at the council’s July 8 meeting in order to construct the new alignment.
If an agreement can’t be reached for a new route, the frontage road will be reconstructed with the same layout it has now. If that happens, the county expects to construct a median on Osgood Avenue for safety reasons, likely in 2018.
“It’s a very dangerous intersection as it exists,” County Commissioner Gary Kriesel said.
Adding a median would cut off left-turn access to the North Frontage Road from Osgood, which worries area businesses.
Fury Motors, which is planning a new building on its property at the intersection, says it won’t build if the frontage road stays as it is.
“If the frontage road remains where it’s at, we would not have the desire or ability to put a new building in that location and risk that type of investment without proper access.” Fury Motors co-owner Jim Leonard said. “The big key for everything here is long-term viability for the businesses on the frontage road.”
The latest design would push the intersection of the frontage road and Osgood north about 300 feet, putting it about 500 feet north of Highway 36. Currently only 200 feet separate the intersections, and that causes traffic problems.
“Those problems will not only remain but will get worse as time goes on,” Washington County Engineer Wayne Sandberg said.
The proposed new intersection would be designed to allow for the addition of a stoplight in the future.
The new design would route the frontage road north on Oren Avenue, around most of the Fury Motors dealership. A new frontage road segment would cut through the back of the Fury property, separating the dealership’s small north lot from the rest of the site. A new access to the back lot would be built, and Fury would regain use of the land along Highway 36 where the current frontage road lies. Fury is also in the process of acquiring the empty gas station at the corner.
Earlier this year, the city of Oak Park Heights agreed to purchase a single-family home, known as the Westbury property, located next to Carquest. Under the latest proposal, the home would be demolished to make way for the frontage road.
Sandberg says the design isn’t ideal, but it’s better than the existing structure given the constraints of the existing landscape.
“If we had a clean sheet of paper, we’d be doing this very differently, but we don’t,” Sandberg said.
Oak Park Heights wants to see the frontage road rerouted and hasn’t objected to the suggested layout.
“Given the land availability and the constraints presented to all of us, this might be the best engineering choice,” City Administrator Eric Johnson said.
But the council is concerned about the cost of future maintenance, because the proposed agreement would require the city to take ownership of the new section of frontage road. That could be expensive when the road needs significant repairs.
Mayor Mary McComber said the city doesn’t expect to reach the 5,000 population mark required to receive some state aid for roads, and she’s not sure where the money will come from.
“There just isn’t that future funding potential for this council to take on any more roads,” she said.
Councilmember Mark Swenson agreed, “I think this is something we’re going to need help with,” Swenson said.
Sandberg said the county will be doing a “jurisdictional study” of area roads in 2018 to determine which entities should be responsible for which roads. He said the county could consider options for the North Frontage Road at that time. But that’s no guarantee of funding.
Nevertheless the county and MnDOT say that if the change isn’t made now, it likely won’t receive funding for a long time.
“Now is the opportunity to alleviate a very dangerous access point on Osgood,” Kriesel said.
The city council planned to have a work session to discuss the topic prior to make a decision July 8.
Contact Jonathan Young at firstname.lastname@example.org