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A median muddle: Petition aims for removal, but issue far from straight-forward

WORTHINGTON -- The near-final plans for Oxford Street's reconstruction in 2025 include a median, and business owners aren't happy about it. A few weeks ago, the city received a petition from Oxford Street business owners to replace the median wit...

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Traffic moves Wednesday afternoon on Oxford Street in Worthington in this photo looking eastward. (Tim Middagh / Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - The near-final plans for Oxford Street’s reconstruction in 2025 include a median, and business owners aren’t happy about it.

A few weeks ago, the city received a petition from Oxford Street business owners to replace the median with a center left-turn lane. Spomer Classics owner Marv Spomer is leading the charge - he was able to get signatures from nearly every business owner on Oxford.

“It was very interesting going around and getting signatures - nobody even hesitated, it was just ‘where can I sign?’” Spomer said. “If there was anybody within earshot of hearing what we were talking about, they wanted to sign, too.”

Spomer argues the median is unfriendly to businesses and customers alike. The main issue is the lack of access, as potential customers find themselves making u-turns to reach businesses across the street.

“If you’re not at an area where your driveway can be accessed from both directions, people have to go someplace to turn around and go back to your business,” Spomer said.

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Spomer also takes issue with the maintenance of the medians. He said weeds aren’t pulled, signs are knocked down and never replaced and snowplows routinely break hunks of concrete off of the median, which are subsequently never cleaned up.

“This is the dirtiest street you’re going to find anyplace, because you’ve got these medians in the middle that gather all the gravel, sand and dirt and you have it on the outside,” Spomer said. “So when they go to clean the streets, they’ve got double duty to clean both, and they can never keep them clean.”

The petition proposal is to replace the median with a center-left turn lane, so drivers have full access to businesses on Oxford. The petition is also against proposed bike paths, which Spomer said were unsafe and unnecessary.

The question is - how can Oxford business owners get what they want?

City Engineer Dwayne Haffield said the issue is somewhat complicated, as the city’s busiest street is made up of two sections.

The section to the east of Humiston Avenue is a Minnesota Department of Transportation trunk highway. Before MnDOT does a reconstruction project, it needs to get municipal consent for the layout through the city council.

Typically, the two parties come to a consensus on the design, which they have been working toward with the U.S. 59 Corridor Study. If they don’t agree, MnDOT can cancel the project or refer it to an appeals process to override the consent, though such a measure isn’t common for this kind of reconstruction.

It’s unlikely MnDOT would accept a center left-turn lane, even if council was swayed by the petition and pushed for it. Forrest Hasty, MnDOT District 7 project manager, has stated many times the median is here to stay, due to safety reasons.

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The section to the west of Humiston is a county state-aid highway (CSAH). For reconstruction of the street, the county engineer would need to sign off on the plans, not the city.

That's another roadblock, as Nobles County Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder - who is also the county engineer - is firmly against removing the medians. 

MnDOT wants less access, while businesses want more. Haffield and MnDOT have been consistent in their message that a center left-turn lane causes more accidents than a median.

“Typically, crash rates will go up - that’s pretty consistent with roads of that traffic volume - when you open up all of the additional movements available between intersections,” Haffield said. “It also impacts pedestrians walking it - now they suddenly have a lot more activity they have to worry about at each driveway.”

By the end of the month, Oxford business owners, MnDOT and the city are expected to meet to discuss their differences.

The U.S. 59 Corridor Study has been seeking public input for the reconstruction project for months, though the removal of medians was taken out as an option early in the process.

As it sits now, the study is nearly finished with the street’s plans. They will likely be finalized by this summer.

 

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This portion of the median on Oxford Street has endured damage from the freeze/thaw cycle and a occasional run-in with snowplows. (Tim Middagh / Daily Globe)

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