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Transportation plan at new high school leaves room for adjustments

Drivers may want to steer clear of 195th Street and Flagstaff Avenue in the morning and early afternoon once the new Farmington High School opens next fall.

Drivers will likely get caught up in school traffic at that intersection between 7:45 a.m. and 8:15 a.m., when most of the student drivers are trying to get to class. After school, around 3:10 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., the same location is likely to be busy, as all student traffic will be routed out through that same intersection.

County and school officials will take a wait and see approach to the traffic issues that will surround the new high school's opening.

Dakota County Transportation project manager John Sass said it is too soon to know how the new school will affect traffic patterns at the intersections of 195th Street and Flagstaff Avenue, or Flagstaff Avenue and County Road 50. Until the vehicles are actually on the roads, there is no way to gauge how long the intersections will be tied up, how many vehicles will be using those roads, or what the peak times will be.

City, county and school officials met Dec. 10 to discuss options for the intersections that will be most heavily used once the high school opens. During that meeting, they decided to install a three-way stop sign intersection at 195th Street and Flagstaff Avenue, and to leave the Co. Rd. 50/Flagstaff Avenue intersection as is -- with stop signs on Flagstaff Avenue, only.

The plan

School District 192 superintendent Dr. Bradley Meeks said school officials are working on a traffic management plan to help alleviate some of the congestion, and potential safety issues that could come along with directing student traffic through one specific intersection.

Approximately 70 percent of the students currently in grades 8-11 -- who would be in the high school next year -- live in the central to northern part of the district, he said. A total of 14 school buses will deliver students, five of which will serve the downtown and township areas.

School officials already expect most of the morning student traffic to come from the 195th Street/Flagstaff Avenue intersection. But because there are no immediate plans for the Co. Rd. 50/Flagstaff Avenue, the traffic management plan will include directing all student traffic out of the school parking lots to the north on Flagstaff Avenue.

Details of the plan are still being ironed out, Meeks said, but the intent is that there will be a traffic monitor, most likely the school resource officer watching the exits to make sure there are no right-hand turns made out of the school parking lot during the peak traffic time after school. The only vehicles that would be allowed to go south would be school buses.

"We'll see what happens in September," Meeks said. "Once we get out there and work with it, we'll have to make adjustments, I'm sure."

After-school traffic will not include every car in the lot. Many students stay after school for extracurricular events and sports, which will reduce the number of vehicles leaving right after the bell rings.

Other peak times will come in the evenings when sporting events or concerts are going on, drawing parent and student vehicles to the school. At those times, the school district may call in the police department to help keep traffic moving smoothly, like they do now at the current high school.

"We're going to start out with a plan and we're going to modify it as we see things happening," Meeks said.

The plan leaves room for tweaking.

On Monday, the Farmington City Council approved its 2009 Capital Improvement Plan, which sets aside $750,000 to begin addressing the Co. Rd. 50/Flagstaff Avenue intersection. If the new city council chooses to go ahead with traffic control devices -- a roundabout or signal -- at that location, the money set aside in the CIP would go toward a feasibility study or preliminary planning.

At this time, Sass said, Dakota County's CIP is "pretty well solidified" for 2009, but the project's design phase could be put on the county's CIP for 2010. Dakota County would participate in the project costs because it affects Co. Rd. 50.

If there is a feasibility study in 2009 and the design phase is completed in 2010, Sass said construction of a roundabout or stoplight intersection could come in 2011.

The biggest hold up for the Co. Rd. 50/Flagstaff Avenue intersection is that there are Xcel Energy power lines in the area that would have to be moved in order to construct any type of expanded intersection. A roundabout there would cost approximately $2.2 million; a signaled intersection could cost from $700,000 to $2.4 million.

When the time comes to build that intersection, he added, Flagstaff Avenue may be moved about 25 feet to the west, in hopes of avoiding at least one of the power lines in place.