Transportation plan open house

Matt Mangulis asks a question during an open house unveiling the area's 30-year transportation plan Thursday at the Intergovernmental Center. Photo by Pat Christman

MANKATO — The sample size was small, but many of the 50 or so people attending an open house for a new 30-year Mankato-area transportation plan showed a strong readiness for the city to continue growing eastward toward Eagle Lake.

Asked to place blue sticky dots next to the projects they saw as top priorities, dozens appeared on the proposed projects to extend Adams Street, Blue Earth County Road 12, Hoffman Road and Bassett Street into the farmland on Mankato's growing east side.

"Part of the price of growing up," said County Public Works Director Al Forsberg.

While the planning document, set to be finalized later this year, includes roughly $150 million for repairs and reconstruction of existing roads, the city's growth is applying pressure on the road system — especially east of Highway 22.

Prioritizing those future needs within a limited pool of money is at the heart of the Mankato/North Mankato Area Planning Organization's transportation plan. Called MAPO 2045, the plan is required by the federal government now that the cities have surpassed the population threshold into an official metropolitan area.

Blue Earth County Commissioner Mark Piepho, who is chairman of the policy committee overseeing the transportation planning, said the price tag on the long "laundry list" of needed projects is more than the local governments, even with state and federal funding, will be able to finance.

"The fiscal constraints, we'll have to go through all of that," Piepho said.

But Piepho, a former Republican legislator and a fiscal conservative, said the projects on the list make sense even if they can't all be afforded.

"They're all needs," he said. "They're real needs."

The next stages of the process will be projecting a realistic amount of funding that will be available over the next three decades, subtracting the cost of maintaining the current road system, and then picking which new projects to construct with the remaining dollars.

"We're still prioritizing projects," said Mankato Community Development Director Paul Vogel, who also serves as MAPO's executive director. "That's the next thing."

The projects that end up on the list would still have to be funded and approved by local governments, but a project not on the list would be ineligible for federal funding. The final plan will suggest work that should be done in the next five years, projects that should be done in the 2020s and those that should be completed in the final 15 years of the plan.

Other projects that don't make the financial cut, but are considered worthy of future consideration, will go into the plan's list of "illustrative" projects.

The draft plan includes hundreds of projects, ranging from intersection improvements to new roads to adding lanes to existing roads to building bike trails. The total cost of the comprehensive list easily tops $225 million, more than will fit in the projected funding, said Craig Vaughn of SRF Consulting, who is the project manager for the planning effort.

"There's a whole host of those that are going to have to go into the 'illustriative' list," Vaughn said, pointing at the various proposed construction ideas on maps around the room. "They're going to have to."

As the process moves to its next stage, the public was asked to weigh in.

After 90 minutes, the top public priority was extending Adams Street — which currently ends just east of the Hilltop Hy-Vee — to County Road 12. Nearly as many also wanted to extend the street even further toward Eagle Lake.

Extending County Road 12, a north-south road on the city's far east side, to Highway 83 was also favored by many. Smaller numbers picked the eastward extension of Hoffman Road and Bassett Drive and expanding Highway 22 with passing and turning lanes.

A few people picked intersection improvements — likely roundabouts, although future intersection studies would determine the ultimate design — at the Highway 14 ramps at North Riverfront Drive, at Highway 22/County Road 90, at Balcerzak Drive/Pohl Road, at Highway 22/Highway 83, at Stadium Road/Pohl Road, at Highway 22/Victory Drive and at Stoltzman Road/Pleasant Street.

Others want a better interchange between Highways 14 and 169, and one person prioritized improved traffic flow and safety on Highway 169 between Highway 14 and Webster Avenue. Another wrote in a project — an improved intersection at Madison Avenue and Haefner Drive — as a top priority.

And a few people focused on bike and pedestrian work, including a bike lane along Elm Street to connect Riverfront Park to a planned cross-city bike route on Broad Street. Pedestrian improvements around Minnesota State University were also prioritized, particularly on Stadium Road.

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