Mendota Heights signs off on pedestrian tunnel at Hwy. 110

In the future, pedestrians in Mendota Heights may need to adjust to life underground — at least for a brief stretch.

The Mendota Heights City Council approved a resolution at its Jan. 21 meeting to support Dakota County’s plan to add a pedestrian underpass at Highway 110 near Dodd Road. The underpass would be part of the county’s Mendota/Lebanon Hills Greenway Master Plan, which is intended to connect parks and communities with a series of trails.

Construction on the underpass would not begin until 2017, in order to align the work with a resurfacing project that the Minnesota Department of Transportation has scheduled for the highway.

However, Kurt Chatfield, a representative from the Dakota County Planning Office, told the council at the meeting it was important to get city support now in order to apply for a $1 million Metropolitan Council grant by the Jan. 31 deadline. The county will also put up a $250,000 funding match required for the grant. Chatfield said the total cost of the project hasn’t been pinned down.

“I think we’ll have a better idea of what those costs will be if we enter a design phase,” Chatfield said.

Tunneling toward problems?

The council expressed some concern at the meeting that its show of support might be a point of no return for construction on the underpass — a project which the council has been reluctant to enter.

Police Chief Mike Aschenbrenner told council members he’s opposed to the underpass, saying he feared it would create safety hazards for users.

“I’m not in favor of a narrow, underground, 200-foot tunnel anywhere in our city,” Aschenbrenner said. “I believe that’s problematic.”

But Aschenbrenner admitted crossing the highway at grade has become increasingly dangerous over the years, and added he “could be convinced otherwise” if the county were willing to substantially widen the underpass and improve its lighting.

The council also asked if the county would consider an overpass, but Chatfield responded the overpass would be prohibitively expensive.

“We understand the benefits of the bridge, but we think the cost of the bridge is just much, much greater,” Chatfield said.

Chatfield also sought to allay council concerns about reconsidering the project in the future, saying that if the grant is awarded and designs later show unexpected challenges with the project, the money could be returned.

Exploring the option

Given the tight timeframe for the grant application, the council reasoned it would be better to move ahead with the underpass than miss out on the chance and be stuck with an at-grade crossing.

“Here we have an opportunity to at least begin to address what’s been a major issue and concern for this city with the understanding that when we get to the end, if it just is not going to work, it can be returned to its funding source,” Council member Liz Petschel said. “I would be more in favor of that than passing up the opportunity for a funding source in the fall that may not even occur.”

Council member Steve Norton also propelled the council toward its unanimous approval vote, saying that while the underpass wasn’t the city’s first choice, it could still be a boon to pedestrian safety.

“We would probably regret passing up at least exploring the option of a tunnel if one kid got hit by a car while crossing the road,” Norton said. “I also think it would connect the city better with pedestrian traffic and bicycle traffic.”

Luke Reiter can be reached at lreiter@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815
 

 

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