By Chad Koenen
An expansive reconstruction project in downtown Henning will be moving forward as scheduled, despite questions about who could eventually take ownership of Highway 108/Douglas Ave.
During a special work session last Monday night, the Henning City Council heard from Lori Vanderhider and Mary Safgren about the potential County Highway 108 project that is set for 2024. The project will completely redo Douglas Ave., going through Henning and includes a number of changes like narrowing the driving lanes, potentially changing how some of the roads meet the highway and widening sidewalks.
Though the project has been discussed for quite some time, Vanderhider said discussions have been taking place between Otter Tail County and Mn/DOT over having the state highway turned back to the county. If that were to happen before 2024, Mn/DOT would no longer be in charge of completing the project and that responsibility would fall on the shoulders of Otter Tail County. If that were the case, Vanderhider said Otter Tail County would likely receive a payment to take over ownership of the road, but then would likely be in charge of deciding whether to complete the project, or leave the road as is.
“We haven’t worked out any of those details…it’s likely Mn/DOT would give the county some turn back funds for taking the road back and then the county would pick things up with the city,” said Vanderhider.
In order to not let the planning process fall behind, Mn/DOT is hoping to continue the construction planning with the City of Henning to keep the project on schedule should an agreement with the county not come to fruition. The planning would also serve as a road map to complete the project.
As part of the project, the City of Henning is planning to replace the underground water and sewer lines that have gone past their useful life and could begin to fail in the future.
One of the biggest changes in the project is the proposed narrowing of the roadways and widening of the sidewalks in the downtown area.
In order to give residents an idea of what the driving lanes could look like in 2024, Mn/DOT conducted a survey last fall with temporary cones set up to demonstrate the new driving lanes. Following the demonstration, Mn/DOT received 63 online responses to the project, which brought varying responses on the proposed changes.
“I think the main thing that I want to touch on was we did get feedback that the people didn’t really like the bump outs. We had some positive, but there was comments about the road being narrower and not liking the bump outs. We have heard that before in other communities where we actually implemented them and even had one community say that they wish they had done more. It becomes an educational process even throughout project development,” said Vanderhider. “The purpose is to give better visibility so the pedestrian sees the car and the driver sees the pedestrian.”
As part of the proposed project, bump outs were placed in front of city park, Good Shepherd and St. Paul’s Lutheran Churches, as well in front of B&D Foods and Gateway Pub. The bump outs extend the sidewalk into the parking lane and are meant to provide an easier way to cross the road at heavy pedestrian access points.
Vanderhider said even with the changes to the sidewalks, people didn’t seem to use the bump outs and extended sidewalk as much as was hoped. She said this isn’t uncommon in many communities, but contended it’s about educating the public about utilizing the bump outs and sidewalk.
“The one thing I noticed when we were out there that day installing the animal prints, was that even with having the defined mid block crossing, people still weren’t using it,” said Vanderhider.
After hearing concerns from people in the community about the narrowing of the driving lane, Henning Mayor Darren Wiese asked if the proposed project was set in stone, or if it could request to not have bump outs or a narrower driving lanes.
Currently Douglas Ave. had a 14 foot driving lane on each side with a 10 foot parking lane, 2 foot of buffer and a 10 foot sidewalk. The current proposed project would narrow the road to a 12 foot driving lane, 10 foot parking lane, 2 foot buffer, 2 foot of boulevard that could include plants or decorations and 10 foot of sidewalk.
Safgren said there is a push at the state level to narrow the driving lanes. Mn/DOT will pay for 100 percent of the 24 foot driving lane, 90 percent of a 10 foot parking lane, Mn/DOT will pay for 100 percent of standard width sidewalk or the existing width of the sidewalk and everything else will need to be funded by the city for the roadway. She said it would likely cost more to leave the driving width as is, as opposed to narrowing the driving lanes and installing a larger sidewalk or buffer.
In addition to potentially widening the sidewalks, Mn/DOT is proposing to extend the current sidewalk all the way to the Dollar General store near Highway 210.
Vanderhider said the store is a destination and extending it would mean there would be a sidewalk to provide additional pedestrian safety for those walking to the store.
Another potential change in the project is the realignment of Balmoral Ave. and Highway 108 behind St. Edward’s Catholic Church. Vanderhider said the angle in which Balmoral Ave. approaches Highway 108 presents some safety concerns. The plan would be to realign the road in order to come to more of a 90 degree angle.
“We are looking at it as a safety improvement,” said Vanderhider. “It ranks high for safety criteria. It is a proactive change.”
However, councilman Jim Haberer said that could create more potential problems in the future due to the amount of large trucks that utilize the road to get to the industrial park and elevator. He said the current angle of the road allows for an easier turn on Balmoral Ave. and Highway 108.
“I think you are going to create more problems than leaving the street the way it is,” he said.
Mn/DOT said it will take the comments the council provided on Monday night and will continue the planning process of the Highway 108 project.
The Mn/DOT representatives said negotiations with Otter Tail County to turn the road back from a state highway to county highway continue, but they will continue to move forward with the project as originally scheduled.