Listen Now
Pledge Now


City and MnDOT introduce preliminary Highway 61 plan

MnDOT has released the tentative plans for Highway 61 reconstruction through Grand Marais
MnDOT has released the tentative plans for Highway 61 reconstruction through Grand Marais

At the Wednesday, February 14 meeting, the Grand Marais City Council heard from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) on the latest plan for highway reconstruction through the city, as well as some concerns from local highway workers about pedestrian “bump outs” and narrowed traffic lanes. 
Highway architect CJ Fernandez gave a presentation on the plan, using Power Point and 3D video to show what MnDOT described as the “geometric plan” for the highway corridor. Fernandez explained that the geometric plan is the “core” or the “spine” of the project.  He said it establishes the width of drive lanes, cross walks and bump outs for pedestrians, and a 12-foot bike trail separate from the highway. These are part of the “geometry” of the project and are fixed once the city approves the plan.
Other design features are outside this core area. However, the sketches presented by Fernandez included possible future amenities (in locations dubbed “community spaces”) such as raised flower beds and trees, benches, historic markers, and bike racks. 
He described design features that would make the corridor safer for pedestrians, including sidewalk bump outs at 4th and 5th Avenue West and at 1st and 2nd Avenue East. A median, likely flat, is proposed for the intersection at 8th Avenue. 
Councilor Tracy Benson said she had heard comments from some citizens worried about the safety of the bump outs. 
Two local MnDOT maintenance staffers were at the meeting and they said the narrow lanes and bump outs would mean they would not be able to plow the parking lanes. They said they could plow city streets now because the lanes are wide enough and there are no obstacles. 
A local MnDOT staffer shared a photo he had taken on Country Road 7 in front of the hospital, stating that the photo demonstrated how wide Highway 61 would be through the city if the proposed changes were made. He expressed concerns about the safety of the roadway in the winter especially, when snow builds up and vehicles are not able to park close to the curb. 
Although Cook County Chamber Director Jim Boyd, a member of the city’s Highway 61 Steering Committee, expressed frustration that these concerns were just coming to light now. Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux countered that it is better to consider this now than when the engineering had begun or the road constructed. 
MnDOT officials said those conversations, between the planners and the maintenance staff, had begun and would continue. 
In the meantime, the council stressed that it would like input now. City Administrator Roth encouraged citizens to come to an Open House on February 27, from 3 to 6 p.m. at Grand Marais City Hall to see the plans for themselves. Portions of the plan are on the city’s website. Double-click on the map to enlarge it to see the proposed changes and features. 
The city council hopes to come to agreement on the plan so engineering can start for construction work in 2019.

Hear some of the city council's discussion: