By Chad Koenen
Henning could see some major changes to traffic flow on the main corridor through town.
During a special open house and city council meeting on Wednesday night, the Henning City Council heard from representatives from MnDOT about the 2024 Highway 108 project. The project will replace Douglas Ave., which is the main street through town. MnDOT discussed several other changes, like the potential closing of Fourth Street near Douglas Ave., as well as wider sidewalks, bump outs and a more narrow parking lane.
As part of the overall project, there are two projects scheduled for 2024. The first project starts in Ottertail and follows Highway 78 to just North of Milne Ave. That project is just a resurfacing project, which could also include a potential realignment of Balmoral Ave.
The project in the city of Henning is a reconstruction project from Milne Ave. to Highway 210, which will include city utility and sidewalk improvements.
Lori Vanderhider, who is the project manager, said the proposed project will decrease the parking lane from 14 feet to just 10 feet. The sidewalk width would increase from 9 feet to 13 feet in the downtown area and the driving lane would remain at 12 feet on each side of the road.
Bump outs into the driving lane are also being proposed near Gateway Pub and B&D Foods, the city park and near St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and Good Shepard Lutheran Church.
Mary Safgren, who is the planning director, highlighted the results of the online survey. In September 2020 there were temporary striping and delineators between Second Street and Front Street to show the adjustments in the driving lanes and parking lane, as well as the mid-block bump out. She said many of the improvements were identified in Henning’s Safe Routes to School Plan.
“The different improvements that we were looking at, as far as the demonstration project, a lot of them came out of the Safe Routes to School Plan. There’s concerns about kids walking down the alley by Gateway Pub and just crossing wherever they want to get to the grocery store. Also, kids are using the alley to walk to school in the morning and also down on the end of the west side of town,” said Safgren.
Safgren said neighboring communities have also put decorative planters, seating and designs in the larger sidewalk, which has helped economic growth in the downtown area.
“We are looking at how safety can be improved. We have done these types of complete streets projects in other communities,” said Safgren. “Besides the safety benefits they have also realized economic benefits once improvements were made.”
There were also discussions of potentially closing Fourth Street near Highway 108. The road was identified as a higher than average crash risk due to its five legs. During the meeting it was reported there were three crashes near the intersection of Fourth Street and Douglas Ave. in the past 10 years.
“It is not a standard intersection since it has five legs. It can cause confusion to the drivers,” said Trudy Kordosky, who is the traffic engineer. “This intersection was actually identified at a higher than average crash rate and that could be attributed to the five legs to the intersection. That would be an improvement we could make here.”
Kordosky also said Balmoral could be realigned so it wasn’t a skewed intersection. It could be realigned to be more perpendicular to Highway 108. She said the road now provides a visual improvement for people who are coming from Ottertail to Henning. Past concerns over realignment centered around allowing trucks to safely turn on and off of Highway 108 to go to the elevator. Kordosky said MnDOT is currently working with its designers to find a suitable solution.
“I know there was some concerns brought up about the realignment and the truck traffic that goes to the elevator. We are working with our designers to improve truck turning,” said Kordosky. “The intersection as it is now, I think people can make some risky moves if they are traveling and want to turn and go straight. If we can continue and create this perpendicular intersection it’ll be a safer place for folks to turn.”
As part of the project, a survey will be available online at www.mndot.gov/d4/projects/henning
Following the project overview by representatives from MnDOT, the meeting was opened up for questions from the public.
One of the first questions revolved around the bump outs that were part of the demonstration last fall.
Henning Mayor Darren Wiese asked if there would be a monetary penalty for not installing the bump outs. He said he watched for two days during the demonstration and the high school students did not use the bump out by Gateway Pub. He said other people in the community have expressed a desire to not proceed with the bump out portion of the project.
Vanderhider said some of the bump outs may be optional and wouldn’t necessarily cost the city money, or result in a financial penalty if they do not proceed with the bump outs.
“That is needed for the pedestrian crossing there. The pedestrian crossing was something that came out of the safe routes to school plan,” said Vanderhider. “In the downtown area there may be some that are needed to get the ADA ramps in properly. If it is needed to meet ADA then it is not an option.”
Other concerns about the bump outs regarded taking away parking options near the Good Shepherd and St. Paul’s Lutheran Churches for residents in the area, as well as losing parking in front of Gateway Pub. Vanderhider said there are no plans to add parking in front of Gateway Pub right now, as there will just be one parking spot eliminated on both side of the road.
Another question surrounded the potential closing of Fourth Street. Vanderhider said if the road is closed, people would need to take Marshall Ave., go up one block and take a right and another right to access the former Trinity Lutheran Church building.
As far as the sidewalks, representatives from MnDOT said the standard specs is a 12 foot driving lane and 10 foot parking lane. The current plan calls for four feet of additional sidewalk to be installed, which would take away four feet of parking and adding it to the sidewalk. If the road is wider than the specs then the city would need to pay for the remaining driving lane. So, if the city only extended the sidewalks by two feet, as opposed to four feet, much of the cost for the additional parking lane would be paid by the city. Sidewalks that meet the overall specs of the project would be eligible for MnDOT funding.
The estimated additional cost would be $110,000 with approximately a $50,000 credit for sidewalk if the city were to narrow the road by two feet for parking, as opposed to narrowing it by the proposed four feet from MnDOT.
The Citizen’s Advocate reached out to Emma Olson, MnDOT Public Affairs, following the meeting about the additional cost should the city elect to keep the width of the road the same as it currently is, but at the time of press had not received an estimated cost for that scenario.
A question was also raised whether the city would be ineligible for a $150,000 grant it received for expanding pedestrian safety and options if it did not fully implement the MnDOT plan for sidewalks and safety improvements.
Other questions revolved around concerns of having heavy farm machinery from driving down Douglas Ave. and whether narrowing the road would create difficulty in driving those big machinery down the road.
Henning Police Chief Mike Helle shared that a combine driving down Highway 108, without a header, could take up two lanes of traffic. Helle said there is not a road wide enough through town to allow the piece of machinery to travel through town if Highway 108 is narrowed and vehicles are parked on the road.
Representatives from MnDOT maintained that if residents have concerns over narrowing the road they should complete the survey online.