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Walkers, bikers will benefit from project

By Staff | Apr 1, 2013

This MnDOT aerial view of one portion of the Highway 169 restoration project shows the proposed sidewalks and crossings for this section, which are all outlined in purple. Near the roundabout pictured on the right side of the photo, the on and off bike ramps (from the street to the sidewalk) are visible.

When the Highway 169 reconstruction project is completed in Blue Earth in November, drivers will have a nice, smooth new surface to drive on.

But, people who walk or ride bicycles will also find pavement they can use.

The Blue Earth Active Living Coalition members learned on Monday that the plans for the project include plenty of sidewalks along both sides of Highway 169, and across the three roundabouts.

The coalition’s focus is concerned with planning and promoting areas for walking, biking and other outdoor activities in the city of Blue Earth. Monday they learned their efforts have been heard by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the city.

Rolin Sinn of MnDOT revealed engineer plans that included 5-foot-wide sidewalks down both sides of most of the Highway 169 project.

The plans also call for sidewalk crossings on all four sides of all three roundabouts being planned.

“The crossings are located just outside the actual roundabout area,” Sinn says. “Pedestrians will cross the streets before the roundabout starts.”

Bicycle riders have also not been forgotten, Sinn adds.

“Bicyclists will have a choice when they approach the roundabouts,” he explained. “They can either stay on the side of the road and follow the traffic lane through the roundabout, or they can exit onto the sidewalk and follow that path, avoiding the actual roundabout itself.”

Sinn says special sidewalk ‘access ramps’ will be located before each roundabout begins, where a biker can exit the street and go onto the sidewalk. After going past the roundabout, another ramp will take them back onto the street surface.

“It is whatever the biker feels most comfortable doing,” he says. “Stay on the road or not.”

Sinn pointed out that the sidewalks will be continued on County Road 44 that will lead to the entrance to the Blue Earth Area High School and to McDonald’s restaurant. Currently there are no sidewalks that far past Highway 169.

But, the sidewalk will not go as far as connecting with the trail on East Street. That, the MnDOT engineer says, will have to be done by someone else.

There is one area of the highway that will not have sidewalks.

While one is planned to run on the east side of the south end of the project all the way to the entrance to Riverside Cemetery, the west side sidewalk will not extend that far south.

And, all sidewalks end at the cemetery.

The coalition members expressed disappointment that sidewalks are not planned to continue to 14th Street to the south.

“It has to do with the railroad bridge,” Sinn says. “Until that bridge is ever replaced by the railroad, there would not be room for a sidewalk there.”

Sinn did point out one more walkability feature.

“We have plans to install a special pedestrian traffic light on 169 at the Fifth Street crossing,” Sinn says. “That will help with kids walking or on bikes crossing the highway to get to school.”

And, he adds, it will be motion-sensor activated.

When a pedestrian or biker approaches the light, it will sense it and automatically begin flashing amber lights, cautioning traffic to stop for pedestrians attempting to cross in a wide crosswalk area.

Also at their meeting on Monday, the coalition:

Heard a proposal from Rhonda Allis of Region Nine Development to assist the group with an overall plan for promoting active living in the community.

She has recently completed similar reports for the communities of St. James, Madelia, Butterfield and Wells.

The group agreed to have her proceed.

Applauded the Blue Earth City Council for their decision to add new playground equipment to two city parks.

Discussed using some of the $7,000 the group still has remaining from a SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Program) grant for things such as signage to designate location of parks and trails.

Heard a report that Gov. Mark Dayton is including a larger budget amount for the SHIP program for the next two years, which should translate to continued local funding.