MnDOT and Little Falls to tear up Highway 27 in 2019

Staff Writer

There’s good news and bad news for Little Falls residents and business owners coming in 2019. The good news is that there will only be one street project that year. The bad news is that one project will be a massive repair of Highway 27, starting west of 15th Street West and going to Ninth Street East to last all summer.

From 13th Street West to Sixth Street West, and from Second Street East to Ninth Street East, the repairs will be a simple mill and overlay, where Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and city crews will tear up the top layer of street and replace it with a new layer.

From Sixth Street West to Second Street East, however, the highway will have more reconstruction work done, with new sidewalk and curb and gutter.

From Fourth Street West to Bank Square, the intersection of Highway 27 and First Street East, the city will be replacing utilities, Public Works Director Greg Kimman said.

The project was a topic of discussion at both Monday’s City Council special work session, and at an open house at the Little Falls City Hall, June 29, where about 60 residents and business owners were able to ask Kimman, MnDOT Project Manager Luke Wehseler and others about the project.

One concern residents on the west side of town, near 13th Street West had, was if MnDOT would add a left turn lane along 13th, 14th and 15th streets West, as the lack of them is dangerous to residents turning left on Highway 27.

“You’re sitting there in the lane of traffic, waiting to turn,” said resident Ron Nornberg. There have been three or four times he’s been hit trying to turn into his driveway along the highway.

After the question and answer session June 29, Wehseler met with Nornberg and other residents to discuss the issue, and said MnDOT would look into it.

Nornberg said he expects the department will add the turn lane after meeting with Wehseler.

Sewer and water improvements are also needed in the areas that will be renovated, Nornberg said.

“They’re having problems there all the time,” Nornberg said.

Other improvements Wehseler said will be included in the project are:

  • Storm sewer improvements and pulling the curb in on both sides to match up with each other. Because of this, Wehseler said the width of parking lanes will decrease from 14 feet to 10-12 feet and even 8 1/2 feet in some places;
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements on the sidewalks. Some improvements were installed two years ago, near Lindbergh Drive, but in some cases are already out of date;
  • Adding a concrete median at the railroad crossing by Paul Larson Memorial Drive to prohibit a center left turn lane, and allowing shorter arms to be installed. This decreases the chances of wind blowing the arms around and closing the crossing.

One item not on the list to improve is the Highway 27 bridge over the Mississippi River.

“I was under the impression we ordered a feasibility study because they were going to replace the bridge anyway and that would be a good time,” Councilman Leif Hanson said Monday, echoing questions several residents had at the open house.

Kimman said the projects were kept separate so as not to put the highway improvement project at risk of not having enough funds to complete it correctly.

While the bridge was originally scheduled to be replaced in 2024, new MnDOT studies show the structure is still good and it has been removed from its 10-year plan, Kimman said.

“The bridge didn’t deteriorate as fast as they thought it would,” said Kimman, who learned of this a couple of weeks ago.

Kimman said the city is unsure what assessments on property owners for sidewalks, utilities and parking will look like, as no final cost estimates or cost-share agreements between the city and the state have been made.

The city will not plan any other street improvement projects in 2019 so as to prevent more disruptions to the business community.

Wehseler said businesses should look at getting people to use any back entrances they have during this time, especially in areas where reconstruction is taking place.

The total estimated cost of the project is $3 million. It is currently unknown what the city’s portion will be.

A preliminary plan for a detour would have vehicles entering Little Falls on the west side diverted to Paul Larson Memorial Drive, then around the project using other city streets and avenues. This plan is not final however, Wehseler said.