Back to the drawing board for Highway 197 project

The Bemidji City Council discussed plans for Highway 197 during their work session last night.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will essentially take the plans back to the drawing board, after the council last August voted four to three to not support a plan that included several roundabouts from the Bemidji Avenue intersection to the intersection in front of Menards.

City Engineer Craig Gray emphasized that something needs to be done to improve safety of the corridor.

MnDOT and the council plan to put together a committee, with the help of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, to gather more input from the business community, as well as other important stakeholders, in developing a plan for the corridor that they hope won’t be met with quite as much resistance.

MnDOT officials at the meeting expressed concerns about the corridor’s crash rates at the meeting last night. The roadway is scheduled for construction in 2026, and will likely be done in phases.

The highest priority, according to MnDOT engineer J.T. Anderson, from a traffic safety perspective, are the intersections at Middle School Drive and Hannah Avenue.

In 2022, MnDOT plans to reconfigure intersections on Highway 71, including the one at Anne Street, and whatever is done will have an impact on Hannah Avenue’s future.

The intersection at Hannah Avenue and Anne Street is also problematic, and council discussed potential options, such as moving the road or closing part of it.

Sanford Health, which owns property in the vicinity, has expressed to the city that they would prefer to keep Hannah Avenue connected to Anne Street.

Plans are still being discussed for the Highway 71 and Anne Street, but stakeholders seem to be in favor of a roundabout. MnDOT has plans for other Highway 71 intersections that would include reduced conflict intersections.

Reduced conflict intersections, or RCIs, allow left turns off the highway, but limit left turns onto the highway. Instead, drivers take the right turn onto the highway then make a U-turn after a short distance.

A recent example is the old Palace junction on Highway 2 near Cass Lake. Anderson said that since constructing that RCI, there hasn’t been a single crash.

No decisions were made at the work session last night. MnDOT officials were there to collect thoughts from council on what direction to go in for making a plan for the business corridor, and Highway 71, that would work for all stakeholders and community members.

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