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The City of Blaine continues to drive the coordination of improvements to Highway 65. The City has taken the lead through the necessary studies, applying for funding, contracting for design services, and setting the stage to finally construct improvements.
Blaine residents and businesses all know the issues and problems created by the congestion on Highway 65. It would be great to go straight to a design solution to begin construction. However, the funding will be decided at the national level by people who have never driven in this area. Meaning that studies are a critical piece to tell the story and compete against all the other traffic problems across the country.
Development of these projects from concept to construction takes years. Three to five years is extremely fast even for simple projects. More complex projects like this typically take five to eight years or longer. Doing the up-front work including the permitting, design, and right of way acquisition goes a long way in making a project competitive. At that point a project can be built within an election cycle if funds are made available.
The latest push began in 2018 with approval to have the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) start a Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) Study of the corridor. While there have been studies done in the past, the process to make the project eligible for federal grants and funding requires these studies to be less than five years old to reflect the current transportation demands and patterns of development. The PEL study area extended from 81st Avenue in Spring Lake Park all the way north to Bunker Lake Boulevard in Ham Lake. The area was further broken down into three sections. The City of Blaine is currently focusing on the center section from just south of 99th Avenue to just north of 117th Avenue. The study follows the federal process to examine a range of alternatives that address capacity, access, mobility, and safety issues. Development of a purpose and need statement, followed by identification and evaluation of potential design concepts. The final study report was officially accepted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and MnDOT in September of 2021.
The City of Blaine through our local state delegates Senator Jerry Newton, Representative Erin Koegel, and Representative Nolan West were able to receive grant funding from the state legislature for the next steps. The City contracted in early 2021 to begin the investigation and design work of the center section of the study area before the PEL was officially complete. A team from TKDA and HDR consulting firms were selected to do this work. This team has also been helping the City apply for additional grants for the eventual construction of the improvements.
The final project for this section of Highway 65 will cost between $100M to $150M and cannot be built all at once. Therefore, it needs to be designed so each individual project can be built separately and still work with the other pieces. Smaller projects are also easier to get funded.
99th Avenue grade separated intersection
This is a City road connecting to Highway 65 and provides access to the National Sports Center, a large area of industrial businesses, and the shopping areas along Davenport Avenue. This is the City’s top priority for the corridor.
A west frontage road from 99th Avenue to the north
All studies about Highway 65 for the last 20 years have shown that the highway needs good frontage roads to work properly. Too many people are forced to get onto Highway 65 for short trips north or south, adding to the congestion. This is also one of the remaining areas where the City can see commercial development. This is the City’s second highest priority for the corridor. The City has been in contact with the manufactured home communities and the property owners of the undeveloped land in that area as options are evaluated.
105th Avenue grade separated intersection
This intersection is the primary access to the National Sports Center and local businesses. It is very close to the other intersections and the signal creates more backups. The project is looking at how to provide functional access across the highway, on and off the highway by the frontage road system or slip ramps, and still serve the businesses in the area.
109th Avenue grade separated intersection
This intersection has the most significant impact on the entire area. It is Anoka County’s top priority for the corridor. It will also be the most expensive. The project team is putting extra effort into this location to make sure the right project solution is found.
117th Avenue grade separated intersection
This City road connection is an important connection to and across the highway for access to the commercial areas and the residential areas on each side. When traveling northbound this is the last signal in Blaine, making this an important addition with the projects further south.
The project team includes consultants, staff from the City of Blaine, Anoka County, MnDOT, and FHWA. The process requires all possible options to be evaluated. Then the team will begin to eliminate options based on very specific criteria that help solve the identified problems. The team has narrowed it down to three final options. This process ensures that the final selected alternative meets all the needs of the community, is technically feasible, that the benefits outweigh the costs, and it will not create different future problems.
These final options will be presented to the City and County elected officials in April along with a technical recommendation for the final selected alternative. Additional community outreach will also happen at that time.
There continues to be a lot of momentum towards funding Highway 65 improvements. The public can always help by contacting their state and federal elected officials to stress how important funding for these projects are to the people living here, the 7 million visitors a year that come to Blaine, and to the people that travel this vital corridor between the Twin Cities and north central Minnesota
For more information, visit BlaineMN.gov/TH65.