BEMIDJI -- The future of a key commercial corridor in Bemidji will be in the hands of the City Council next week.
At a work session Monday, the council decided to add the matter of State Highway 197 (Paul Bunyan Drive) improvements to the agenda of its next meeting, which is Aug. 19. The stretch of highway in focus is a 2-mile corridor between Gillett Drive and Bemidji Avenue, where up to 16,000 vehicles travel daily.
The last overlay for the corridor was in 2008 and along with aging pavement, improvements are needed for utilities and shared-use paths. According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the corridor has also been listed as a "critical crash location," averaging 50 collisions per year.
As a result, MnDOT has proposed a two-phase project over the next decade to not only fully restore the corridor's condition, but add up to six roundabouts, too. In order to push the project forward, though, MnDOT is seeking the city's consent on the project's geometric layout and overall approval through a cooperative agreement.
If the council were to give MnDOT approval, geometric layout work would continue into 2020. Completion of the final plan would follow in 2022, with construction of the project's first phase, from Gillett Drive Northwest to Hannah Avenue, to start in 2023.
Then, MnDOT would compile a new corridor study in 2024-2025 before moving ahead with construction on phase two, slated for 2028-2030. Across the whole corridor, roundabouts are proposed at the access to Menards, Middle School Avenue, Hannah Avenue, Pine Ridge Avenue, Ridgeway Avenue and Bemidji Avenue. No roundabout is listed at Irvine Avenue.
The first phase of the project is estimated to cost between $6 million to $8 million, while phase two is estimated at $11 million. For both phases, municipal support is needed, with the city responsible for up to $1.5 million for phase one and between $1.5 million and $2 million for phase two.
Support from Beltrami County would also be required for phase two, as the highway intersects with county roads.
If the council chooses not to have any roundabouts and instead chose to only restore and reconstruct the corridor, MnDOT representatives estimate it would take place in 2025. The reconstruction will include resurfacing, some signal upgrades and pedestrian path improvements.
Because Mayor Rita Albrecht was absent Monday, Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Erickson scheduled the topic for the Aug. 19 meeting to have a full council present for a decision.
While the council's opinion is yet to be decided, though, much of the corridor's business community appears to be opposed. According to a business survey by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, several businesses see the roundabouts as a detriment.
Of 45 respondents, when asked if their business would be directly impacted by the proposed roundabouts, 33 said yes and 12 said no. In another question, when asked about supporting roundabouts from Gillett Drive to Hannah Avenue, 39 said no and six said yes.
According to MnDOT, there are more than 100 businesses served by the corridor, with 64 access points where drivers can turn on and off of the highway.