With traffic on Highway 36 expected to increase now that the new bridge over the St. Croix River is open, two problem intersections in the corridor are being studied.
Washington County is studying possibilities for an interchange at Manning Avenue and Highway 36. Meanwhile, the cities of Oak Park Heights and Stillwater are examining the intersection where Norell/Washington Avenue meets the highway.
Manning Avenue serves as a major north-south route connecting northern Washington County to Highway 36 — and it’s busy.
“Even before the St. Croix bridge opened, there was congestion and delays there, especially during commute times,” said Nathan Arnold, the county’s project manager for the Manning Avenue interchange project. “Compared to intersections of the same size, it had a little higher crash rate, and it poorly functioned with left turns.”
Based on the most recent data, Manning carries nearly 16,000 cars a day and Highway 36 accommodates almost 40,000, according to Arnold, but that’s likely to change.
“We’re kind of expecting a bump, at least to 36, possibly on Manning, just from the St. Croix Crossing opening,” Arnold said.
This fall, the county plans to collect new traffic counts as part of an interchange study that began in June and is scheduled to wrap up next summer. Preliminary design is scheduled for July 2018-2019, followed by final design in 2019-2020. Construction is slated for 2021.
The study, which will include public input, will determine the preferred style of interchange at Manning Avenue.
Whatever style is chosen, the idea is to create a bridge structure to separate Manning and 36, allowing the highway to flow more freely. The type of on- and off-ramps and whether there will be traffic lights on Manning have yet to be determined.
Arnold said the goal is to improve traffic management and maintain pedestrian and bicycle trails, even with anticipated growth in the area.
Although plans for the project predate Lakeview Hospital’s purchase of the land at the northeast corner of the intersection (for possible use as a future medical campus), Arnold said the county will consult with Lakeview and other businesses in the area.
“We will be reaching out to the public and the neighbors of the area as the project goes,” he said. “Right now we’re working with the four cities that are right there [Grant, Lake Elmo, Oak Park Heights and Stillwater] and MnDOT.”
Once constructed, the entire project is slated to cost roughly $25 million, but final costs depend largely on the style of interchange chosen, as well as other factors.
Farther east on Highway 36, Oak Park Heights is leading a joint study with Stillwater to examine the intersection at Norell/Washington Avenue. (The street is named Norell south of 36 but is called Washington to the north.)
“We know that intersection doesn’t function that well,” said Oak Park Heights City Administrator Eric Johnson. “The challenge, however, is what can feasibly be done, without major land acquisitions or significant investment in infrastructure?”
Johnson said the city doesn’t know when the intersection was last examined deeply, and the hope is to better understand the mechanics of when and why there are congestion problems or other problems.
The $50,000 study is being conducted by Stantec, the firm that provides engineering services to Oak Park Heights. Each city is contributing $5,000 toward the study, with state funds paying for the balance.
The study will examine the existing intersection, including crash data, and provide recommendations, including up to three concept layouts to improve the intersection.
Johnson said the study should be complete by the end of the year.
“Hopefully there’s something we can do,” he said.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]