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Thomas Street underpass planned, despite RR worries

City administrator Bob Louiseau talks to the crowd Tuesday night during an informational meeting hosted by MnDOT regarding the upcoming projects on Highway 10 west of town and Highway 59 south. He said that it just makes sense to make improvements to West Avenue with this project. Brian Basham/Tribune

Though people in attendance seemed fine with upgrades to Highway 10 west of Detroit Lakes, they weren’t as crazy about the idea of Thomas Street being turned into a frontage road.

People gathered Tuesday evening for a meeting regarding Highway 10 and Highway 59 projects with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The result of a planning study started in 2009, the project is slated for 2015.

The joint project between the state and the city of Detroit Lakes will include a frontage road along Highway 10 from the Highway 59 intersection to Airport Road.

It also includes a frontage road along Highway 59 south connecting to the frontage road along Highway 10 to L&M Fleet. That portion will also include an underpass at Thomas Street to connect the downtown portion of Detroit Lakes to the developing western side of town.

MnDOT project manager Tom Lundberg said the main goals of the frontage road are:

Mobility — same as was done east of town when Highway 10 was realigned and old Highway 10 became a frontage road.

Safety — allowing access to the west side of town for motorized wheelchairs, pedestrians and bikes.

Access management — meaning some access points along Highway 10 will be closed or signaled.

And commercial growth — the business area is developing but the road system has not kept up.

“We can space signals safely rather than stacking them on top of each other,” he said.

The three access points will be Airport Road as it exists, one at Subway where it already exists as well but with some alternations, and then a signaled access near the former Grover’s site.

The turn by Subway will be a left entrance only from Highway 10 and a right only exit onto Highway 10. Vehicles will not be allowed to cross Highway 10 from the frontage road and turn west.

City Engineer Jon Pratt said the “city’s involvement is somewhat small compared to the state involvement.”

The main part of the city’s share will come from the underpass (which is a shared cost with the state) and connecting to that underpass on the eastern side of Highway 10.

Several connections have been considered in the past, but Jacob’s Engineering, the consulting team hired by the state, said the Thomas Street connection is the best option.

“The goal is to create a local connection to the rest of the town,” Pratt said.

The biggest concern Tuesday night, though, was that connection. Many people questioned the need for the project if the city couldn’t get the Canadian Pacific Railroad to stop trains before the crossing.

Trains can be stopped on the CP tracks for half an hour at a time, and therefore would deter anyone from using the new connecting road.

Pratt said that he, City Administrator Bob Louiseau and representatives from MnDOT and Canadian Pacific Railroad talked Tuesday morning about whether or not trains could be stopped at least before the Holmes Crossing so all three crossings weren’t closed for such long periods of time.

“It’s a bit more complicated that we first thought,” Pratt said. “But, we’ve at least started to address that.”

He said that though it’s “less than convenient” to work with the railroad, it is the only option right now because an overpass or underpass at the crossing isn’t feasible.

“It’s more complicated but it’s not dead in the water either,” he said of working with the railroad to get trains to stop back a bit and not block intersections.

He said that if the railroad doesn’t work with the state and city, there isn’t a Plan B at this point.

In 2015, when the highway project is in full swing, Highway 10 construction will be done half at a time, meaning cars will shift from one side of the divided highway to the other while the opposite lanes are being constructed. The same goes for the Highway 59 project.

“It’s fairly straightforward,” said Tom Parker of Jacob’s Engineering.

Traffic will be maintained the entire time. Once Fourth of July and WE Fest roll around, Lundberg said work crews will shut down those days because of the high volume of traffic.

“We can’t have work done when there’s that much traffic in town,” he said.

The city is holding a public works meeting in May that will address the project, and the public is encouraged to come voice their opinions then.

The tentative scheduled for the project is consent from the city council at the June meeting and then in summer of 2014, there will be a public meeting with the final design of the project. From there, there will be a final meeting in early 2015 to talk about schedules and such, and then construction will start that spring.

To find out more about the project, visit the state’s website at

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.