MANKATO — State and local officials, hoping to reduce traffic snarls in Mankato's busiest shopping sector during construction of roundabouts on Highway 22, are seriously considering the feasibility of creating a temporary road across the highway between River Hills Mall and the Gander Mountain/Hilltop Hy-Vee commercial area.
Business owners should get a better sense of the possibilities at a meeting Thursday with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The roundabouts are set to be built next summer at south-central Minnesota's two most crash-prone intersections — where Highway 22 intersects with Madison Avenue and where it intersects with Adams Street. MnDOT announced two weeks ago plans to build both roundabouts simultaneously, shutting down the highway from just north of Adams to just south of Madison and getting the construction done in about 16 weeks.
Some business owners strongly opposed the plan, which would have greatly restricted access to the businesses east of Highway 22. At an ensuing meeting between engineers and business leaders, the idea of the temporary road to replace Adams Street during construction was suggested. The Blue Earth County Board followed with a resolution encouraging MnDOT to construct the temporary road just north of Adams and to delay the roundabout construction until 2015.
The project management team met late last week to continue to look at options, and Blue Earth County Engineer Al Forsberg said MnDOT officials are seriously listening to the concerns of both business owners and local governments.
The temporary road is looking increasingly feasible, even if the roundabout construction stays on schedule for spring of 2014 rather than being delayed a year as the county requested.
"MnDOT has talked to some of the landowners over there (including the owners of the Gander Mountain parking lot that would be heavily impacted by the plan)," Forsberg said. "We do feel it's doable."
Delaying the project until 2015 would be a major administrative hurdle for MnDOT, but the agency hasn't rejected the county's request out of hand. The County Board made the request to ensure completion of the current expansion and upgrade of County Road 17 to the east (which is Madison Avenue when it's in city limits) so it can be fully used as a detour route when Highway 22 is shut down for the roundabout work.
The Mankato City Council was set to weigh in Monday night but voted to table action until after this week's meetings. Forsberg said MnDOT is genuinely interested in addressing the concerns of the city, county and business owners.
"To me, that's just a model of how government agencies should work," he said.
After the project management team meets again today, new options will be discussed with business owners at the 2 p.m. Thursday meeting at Snell Motors.