Many questions, few answers at intersections
Farmington's newly elected city and school officials learned quickly Monday that making decisions on the community's future is easier said than done -- especially since at least one decision they will have to make will affect hundreds of teenage drivers and could potentially cost millions of dollars.
Mayor-elect Todd Larson, council member-elect Julie May and school board member-elect Julie Singwald joined sitting council and school board members in a joint workshop about Farmington's transportation issues Monday. The discussion was driven primarily by the upcoming opening of the new Farmington High School on Flagstaff Avenue.
The group gathered to look at four primary intersections where traffic patterns will change significantly next fall -- 195th Street and Akin Road; 195th and Pilot Knob Road; 195th and Flagstaff Avenue and Flagstaff and County Road 50.
It is the last intersection that will likely give all elected officials something to think about in the coming days. The Flagstaff/CR 50 intersection could see heavy traffic in the morning as students head north to the school from Highway 50.
But after school, when many will be heading south, it gets a little trickier. There is potential for long lines of students trying to access CR 50 and travel east back into the residential areas of Farmington.
Initially, Bryan Nemeth of the consultant group Bolton & Menk suggested an intersection that would include right-hand turns from CR 50 north onto Flagstaff and Flagstaff westbound onto CR 50, and a left-hand turn from eastbound CR 50 onto northbound Flagstaff Avenue. The intersection would not allow a left turn from Flagstaff Ave. to go east on CR 50.
Larson did not favor that option because it would direct traffic to Lakeville rather than toward Farmington.
"I don't have to think about that one too hard," he said.
Big dollar decisions
Creating an intersection that would let people go east on CR 50 means adding a roundabout or stoplight. That could cost millions, because Xcel Energy owns a power pole located on the southeast corner of the intersection, as well as the right of way that surrounds it.
Moving the pole could cost as much as $500,000. Add on a conservative $250,000 for signals, as much as $300,000 in roadway improvements to get the intersection ready for such traffic controls and the cost of designing and constructing the intersection and "it gets to be a bigger project really quick," Dakota County transportation director Mark Kresbach told community leaders.
Those costs do not take into account the right of way access. Kresbach said the city of Burnsville recently had to acquire access from the electric company for a County Road 42 project he said is similar to the situation at Flagstaff and CR 50. They paid approximately $1.3 million. When school board member Tim Weyandt wondered aloud if the energy company would cut a break, Kresbach told officials that was not likely.
"It will all be on the county and city's nickel," he said.
Farmington police chief Brian Lindquist has his own concerns with the intersection. He thinks educating students and urging them to go up Flagstaff to 195th Street would alleviate some of the problem at CR 50. That would lessen the number of cars trying to do a U-turn on CR 50 to head eastbound, he said.
"My initial concern was this intersection the whole time," Lindquist said. "If I could get them to go north on Flagstaff to 195th, that would be ideal."
But directing students north would mean an increase in traffic at Flagstaff and 195th Street. Something will already have to be done to that location, Nemeth said, because traffic predictions indicate student vehicles will be lined up to Akin Road Elementary School before class if the current two-way stop signs remain in place.
"I think, realistically, people would avoid (195th Street)," he said.
Putting in three-way stop signs and adding right-turn lanes will help, and are the most cost effective measure, Nemeth said. However, such an intersection also means less free-flowing traffic.
Signals and a roundabout are also options, each coming with about the same amount of delay time, and projections of three and two accidents, respectively, every year. There, too, time and money will have to be spent in order to plan and pay for construction of traffic controls. The questions become what kind, and how soon? As superintendent Brad Meeks pointed out, building a traffic control will mean closing the intersection, and "September is coming," he said.
Local officials also heard recommendations for 195th Street and Pilot Knob Road, where multi-way stop signs or a roundabout could keep traffic moving more freely during peak hours, as well as Akin Road and 195th, where a roundabout or two-way stop signs could move drivers through faster.
All of the information received by the elected officials will be presented to the public for comment during a Nov. 19 open house at Farmington City Hall. The open house will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. in the upper conference room. Residents may comment on the findings. Once public feedback is received, the consultant group will work with the city, school district and Dakota County to develop recommendations for each intersection.