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City Council OKs traffic light at location of planned Menards store

Is Bemidji becoming another Grand Rapids?

Mayor Richard Lehmann, voicing opposition to a new signal light near the not-yet-existent Menards store, on Tuesday that Bemidji has developed too many traffic lights.

"We're turning into Grand Rapids," he said.

Menards will cover approximately 240,000 square feet and will be located on the former Spaulding Motors site on Paul Bunyan Drive Northwest, also known as State Highway 197.

A traffic light will be constructed at the intersection of the Menards entrance and Highway 197.

Lehmann said none of the city's traffic lights is correctly coordinated with other nearby traffic lights. He said drivers have to stop at nearly every intersection.

"I'm not in favor of more traffic signals," he said, asking at what point the city will have enough.

The original plan, according to the City Engineer Craig Gray, was for the Minnesota Department of Transportation to design, bid and construct the traffic signal at the city's expense, and the city of Bemidji would then be reimbursed by Menards.

But Bemidji has since found out that MnDOT does not have the staff available, so MnDOT's work has reverted to the city. However, MnDOT, he explained, will still inspect the light once completed.

Addressing Lehmann's concerns, Gray said one of the requirements from MnDOT is that the new traffic light be wired to coordinate effectively with the existing stoplight at highways 197 and U.S. 71.

Lehmann said he appreciated that, but he was not convinced.

Councilor Jerry Downs said that when he was growing up in Wilton, Bemidji had just three signal lights, and now there are more than 25.

He said it was a "Catch-22 situation" as the city must embrace its progress and protect the public's safety.

Gray asked the City Council to approve a $16,800 bid from Kimley-Horn & Associates for the design work of the proposed traffic light. A second bid from SHE Engineering came in at $17,000.

The vote to approve was 6-1, with Lehmann casting the dissenting vote.

The entire cost of the project, which will be repaid by Menards, is expected to be about $250,000, Gray said.

He told the council that Menards plans to break ground on the store this fall and open in late fall 2008.

Gray also told the council that MnDOT is preparing to conduct an access study during which it will consider all of the access points to businesses along Highway 197. Some of these access points could possibly be combined into one, he said.