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City takes closer look at Minnesota 60

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington City Council approved final plans for the first phase of the Minnesota 60 four-lane expansion project during a public hearing with the Minnesota Department of Transportation Monday night.

The meeting involved a recap of the expansion plans from near Nobles County 10 east -- following the south edge of Worthington and then north to the Union Pacific railroad bridge.

The City of Worthington will be responsible for financing a portion of the project, and council members approved a good faith cost estimate on the first phase at $92,970. Bid letting on this phase is slated for March 2010, with construction to begin in mid-summer 2010.

The public hearing regarding city financing for the second phase of the project was continued, however, due in part to new information that was presented to the council Monday night. That new information pertained to financing the roundabout at Minnesota 60 and County State Aid Highway 35, as well as the potential to improve pedestrian safety by installing a tunnel underneath the highway in the neighborhood of Morningside Drive.

Peter Harff, MnDOT's Minnesota 60 project manager, said that he assumed throughout the project design phase that the roundabout would be funded entirely by MnDOT. However, he recently learned that in other areas of the state, local government was being required to fund the road extensions that come into the roundabout.

"I don't know ... what exactly we'd call out for city participation," Harff told the council. "You'd be looking at a maximum of $60,000."

Council member Ron Wood took issue with the city funding a portion of the feature, saying safety concerns were sacrificed because the city had decided to follow MnDOT's recommendation on the roundabout.

The issue of safety had been raised earlier in the meeting regarding a proposed pedestrian crossing between Morningside Drive and East Avenue. The current design has pedestrians crossing the four lanes of traffic.

Harff said MnDOT briefly looked at a pedestrian bridge in that area, but because of ADA requirements the required ramp size would be such that most people would opt to cross the road anyway. Harff said the space needed for a ramp would also require more homes to be relocated.

The idea of constructing a tunnel under the highway was raised, and Harff agreed to look into that feature.

"The cost is fairly expensive," he said, adding that the City of St. Peter recently installed a pedestrian tunnel at a cost of more than $500,000. More basic structures could range from $200,000 to $300,000, he said.

Council member Lyle TenHaken said he is concerned about safety issues with people crossing the highway, particularly with the planned expansion of multi-family housing on the city's southeast side.

"Trying to move foot traffic across those lanes of traffic, I'm really uncomfortable with that," TenHaken said.

Wood agreed, saying that creating a tunnel was a chance of a lifetime in terms of safety.

"Is $200,000 to $300,000 a value to safety?" asked Mayor Alan Oberloh. "I would have to argue that it is."

When asked by Harff if the city was willing to fund the structure if MnDOT decided pedestrian traffic didn't warrant that type of structure, Oberloh challenged MnDOT's projections.

"I think we know more of the dynamics of the future than (MnDOT). Currently, the way things sit, you could make your argument. Ten years from now, I don't think you could."

City officials also learned Monday night that additional utilities will need to be relocated due to MnDOT's design, which calls for a pond to be located between the southeast side of the roundabout and the new access road to Worthington Power and Equipment from CSAH 35.

With the new information presented to the City Council, Harff said that he didn't expect them to take action on the second phase of the project during Monday's meeting. He said he hoped to get cost estimates to the city within the next month, at the latest.

The city is required to take action on the proposal for the second phase within 90 days from the point of the public hearing. Oberloh said he'd also like to have the cost estimates before the city begins its budget talks.

"I would like to know, during our budget process, where we're going to come up with (the money)," Oberloh said. He also wanted some time to hear from the public on the possibility of a pedestrian tunnel.

"The tunnel is a new issue, plus we've got potential new costs that we have no way of knowing how we're going to pay for," said Oberloh.

Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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