Posted on

MNDOT holds press conference celebrating Highway 316

MNDOT holds press conference celebrating Highway 316
The Highway 316 project involved many players at the state, county and local levels to come to fruition. Here are a sample of those that worked on the project in some way. Left to Right: State Representative Tony Jurgens, Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik, City Council Member Lori Braucks, City Council Member Tina Folch, Mayor Mary Fasbender, State Senator Karla Bigham, City Council Member Mark Vaughn and Nancy Daubenberger from the MNDOT. Photo by Bruce Karnick
MNDOT holds press conference celebrating Highway 316
The Highway 316 project involved many players at the state, county and local levels to come to fruition. Here are a sample of those that worked on the project in some way. Left to Right: State Representative Tony Jurgens, Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik, City Council Member Lori Braucks, City Council Member Tina Folch, Mayor Mary Fasbender, State Senator Karla Bigham, City Council Member Mark Vaughn and Nancy Daubenberger from the MNDOT. Photo by Bruce Karnick

By Bruce Karnick

[email protected]

Monday night at 4:00 p.m., the Minnesota Department of Transportation held a brief presentation celebrating the opening of Highway 316. Invites to the ceremony were extended to media members Friday and limited access was granted on Monday.

In attendance were plenty of DoT personnel along with Senator Karla Bigham, Representative Tony Jurgens, Council Members Lori Braucks, Tina Folch and Mark Vaughn, Mayor Mary Fasbender, former public works director Nick Egger and more. Speakers for the event were Mayor Fasbender, Senator Bigham and Representative Jurgens.

Nancy Daubenberger, one of the engineers on the project kicked things off talking about the $6 million dollar investment into the Highway 316 corridor through Hastings. The construction began in May of 2021 and completed November 2021. There are still some finishing touches that need to be put on the project such as final striping.

The plan started back in 2016 when DoT officials visited the site to analyze the road surface, that led to a speed study. Public comments led to a public outreach study and the DoT found out there were three main concerns of residents, reducing speed, increased safety for both vehicles and pedestrians and easier left turns both on and off the roadway.

See MNDOT Page 3 Mayor Fasbender spoke second. “This was a major initiative aimed to improving safety and access for all. I can recall the before the project having to avoid making a left hand turn on 316, which was nearly impossible. I am thankful for the partnerships between the city staff, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the city council and our local representatives, Senator Karla Bigham, and Representative Tony Jurgens, and also the governor. We all worked together to ensure this project was included in the state bonding bill and that passed. We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy project. It’s a unique corridor in that carries so much highway traffic, while still providing numerous residents access to their homes. It’s also accommodates our industrial park, and commercial areas. And this is why we worked hard to engage our entire community in this effort. Thank you to our local businesses, for your patience and support. Thank you to the neighbors, who daily commutes changed for these safety improvements to take place.”

Senator Bigham echoed the many statements of thanks to those involved in the process and the sacrifices that everyone made with the lengthy detours, then she took a moment to share a friendly joke with her house counterpart. “It looks gorgeous, so thank you for that. You know, these projects are never easy to get through in relationship to what Representative Jurgens and I have to do. He started this before I came along, and those that know the dynamics between the House and the Senate, the Senate comes in and swoops in and takes credit for a lot of it, even though the house has to start in the bonding bill. It was a good team effort. I appreciate Representative Jurgens leadership on this project and partnership on it. And I appreciate the support of our colleagues because projects like this increase safety, efficiency, and aesthetics, and really help drive that vision that the city has going on into the future.”

Jurgens explained his initial involvement with the planning. “Back in 2016 my very first campaign, I was door knocking out in this neighborhood and if you remember what the roadway look like there was nowhere to walk. I had to walk through the ditches. I knocked on somebody’s door and they said if you get elected, what are you going to do about this road out here?”

Until that point, he had not realized the concerns people had. Then he read that MNDOT was working to actively increase the speed on 316. Being a rookie at the Capital, he was not sure what to do. He arranged a meeting with the DoT and no one showed, that was when he was given a tip.

“Draft a bill! Draft a bill that says they can put a moratorium on any speed limit increases in the city of Hastings. And so I did. And that got their attention, especially when the language of that bill made it into the first draft of the omnibus transportation bill, then we were able to negotiate with MNDOT. They did agree that they would take a look, they would do a study on this roadway. They would work with the city work with the residents who live in this area, and come up with a solution. Speed, accessibility and safety. Those are the three major concerns. This new roadway addresses all those, there’s going to be some learning curves for some people. For the new roadway. It’s the first roundabouts in Hastings, no left turns and we get it. It’s going to take some time for some people to get used to it. But it addresses those three things speed, accessibility and safety,” Jurgens added.

The excitement the officials had on the opening of Highway 316 focused on what they did well. Yes, the new design slowed people down. Yes, the new design made getting on and off Highway 316 much easier and safer, but at what costs.

To put it simply. It is too small. The argument is, narrow streets force people to slow down. How has that worked on Pine Street or 15th Street? Pine Street has always been a racetrack and the road was narrowed to 36 feet from 40 feet over a decade ago, it is still a racetrack. 15th Street was narrowed to 32 feet in 2020 between Vermillion Street and Pine Street and then continued up the hill from Pine Street to Pleasant in 2021. People still drive it like it’s a racetrack too, now, they have less room to avoid cars parked on the side of the street.

Representative Jurgens was correct in saying there is going to be a learning curve for many people. Being the first set of roundabouts in Hastings has caused some confusion for many drivers. It was actually interesting to watch the process unfold as traffic became heavier during the event.

The new road does a great job of providing safety for pedestrians, the boulevard buffer between the road and the new trail is great. It is also significantly easier to go either direction from the side streets and local access points. Yes, you may have to drive a little further to use the roundabout, but that is significantly easier than waiting for an endless line of traffic so you can stomp on the gas to sneak into an opening.

The design has a few major faults that the engineers say they did not overlook. Residents have raised the concern of there being no shoulder at all. What do drivers do if there is a break down or a garbage truck picking up? There is no way to pass them. Complaints have been voiced of the road being backed up from 33rd Street all the way out to Tuttle Drive because the gar- bage or recycling trucks were doing their job.

The post office will not deliver mail to any of the houses with mailboxes on Highway 316 because they have deemed it unsafe to do so. If they deliver mail, they are stopping traffic. Yes, the residents on Highway 316 now must go to the post office to pick up their mail because of this design. Eventually, those residents will have a central location on one or multiple side streets with the big community mailboxes to pick up their mail from, but it is unclear when those will be installed. Given they typically require a large cement pad, it is easy to deduce that a permanent fix will not be in place until after the ground thaws in 2022.

According to MNDOT Engineer Bryant Ficek, the road is working as intended. “It was designed that way. It’s a narrow road, the wider you make the road, the faster vehicles are going to be. That was one of the main issues and why we narrowed the road. So, for emergency vehicles, first thing we tell people is if you’re in the roundabout, get out of the roundabout, and then just like any other emergency vehicle, pull over to the side. The emergency vehicle can go on the median and they will go around you. So, it’s designed for them to go up, the curb is mountable. We have we coordinated with emergency services. And we talked with them multiple times, they have no issues with what’s out there, they will go up and go around vehicles as needed.”

Basically, if you see the lights of an emergency vehicle and you are on the road of 316, according to MNDOT, get as far right as you can and stop. Emergency vehicles will go around you.

There are two major flaws in this logic. First, there are a lot of new signs in the medians. Second, as of right now, the medians will not be plowed.

316 is a state highway so the state will be plowing the road and all of the roundabout surfaces. The city will be responsible to plow the trails and side streets. No one is going to plow the raised medians. Another concern that was raised was plowing. The state typically does not plow all the way, curb to curb. The lanes are barely 10 feet wide, when you start having snowbanks creep into the drivable surface because plows are directed to stay a foot or more away from the curb, 10 feet quickly becomes eight and then eight becomes seven. Ask anyone on Pine Street how well that gets plowed in the winter.

When asked about the center median being used while covered with snow, Ficek responded with “Should that become an issue? We will revisit that for sure.”

The emergency vehicle behind you is pretty easy, get as far right as you can, so move over a foot or two, and stop. But what about garbage trucks or a vehicle that has broken down?

Ficek explained the mountable curb in more detail. “It’s a little hard to tell but if you look on what would be the outside, what I’m considering the outside is where the ditches are. That’s called a barrier curb and it is straight up and down. You can go up that, people do, but it is a barrier. It’s called a barrier curb for a reason. The one in the middle is called a mountable or surmountable, and it’s got more of an angle to it. It’s, still high, I think that’s a five-inch design. So, as you’re looking at it as a driver, yeah, you’re not going to say immediately, oh, yeah, I can just go up on there, which is also designed that way, because we don’t want people just to go up on there whenever they want. But the wheels can go up onto the middle, the middle is designed with a thick section so people can drive on it when they need to. And so, you can pull over and go around it.”

With the center median designed to handle emergency use to drive on, can you go around a garbage truck or a school bus when they are working? Garbage trucks, it was not clear on the answer, but school buses are a hard and fast No. But if a car breaks down and is blocking the traffic or if there is an accident, you can use the center median if it is safe to do so, if there are no signs in your way and if there is no snow on them.

Are there flaws in this design, absolutely, it is clear there were some missed opportunities for things that should have been fixed by the experts. Even their fixes need fixes, which is the most concerning piece of it all. The questions seemed to catch them off guard and the answers, well, the answers are what they are and time will tell if they were answers or deflections that will result in more money being spent to apply fixes.

For now, watch some You-Tube videos on how to navigate a compact roundabout safely, slow down, drive safe and report any concerns you have to the city.

The difference between the curb types is clear, the mountable barrier on the left is angled in some way to make it easier for vehicles to mount or drive up. Driving up this curb is not ideal and should be done carefully and slowly, but it can be done. The barrier type curb on the right is meant to keep vehicles on the road. It is a vertical barrier that cars can get over, but it’s a rough trip.Graphic by Bruce Karnick