Though construction isn't slated to get underway until sometime during the summer of 2020 - in fact, it's so early in the design process that no definite timeline has been set - an impressive crowd turned up for a public information meeting on the West Lake Drive street improvement project this past Wednesday night.

More than 50 local residents turned up for the open house and presentation on the project, which is a joint venture between the City of Detroit Lakes and Becker County (as West Lake Drive is also part of Becker County State Aid Highway 22).

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While not all of West Lake Drive is involved - the portion lying between Legion Road and CSAH 6 is all that will be included in this particular project - the road reconstruction is expected to have a major impact on local traffic patterns throughout its estimated three-month duration.

"There are more than 5,000 vehicles on this road every day," said Detroit Lakes City Engineer Jon Pratt, who took the lead for Wednesday night's presentation.

That number is an average, he added; West Lake Drive has considerably higher traffic volume during the spring and summer. Though road crews will do their best to minimize the length of the project, Pratt added, construction is also largely weather-dependent.

The estimated $3.5 million joint project has been contemplated by city and county officials for "at least" the past 5-10 years, Pratt said, but discussion began in earnest back in 2015-16, when the city first applied for a $330,000 Minnesota Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant that would mainly be used for construction a multi-use recreational trail to run parallel with the roadway.

It was construction of that 10-foot-wide trail that raised the most questions at Wednesday night's meeting.

When Pratt noted that construction of the trail would cause the alignment of the street to shift an average of 10 feet to the north - a minimum of 7 feet in some places, but as much as 12 feet in others - several people questioned why it was necessary to make the trail so wide, and include a grass strip between the trail and the curbside.

"You have to have some separation between the traffic lane and the trail," Pratt said, adding that state and federal guidelines require a minimum separation of three feet between the trail and the curb, but they were proposing a five-foot separation in order to facilitate the growth of turf along that strip.

As for the width of the trail, Pratt said that was due to safety concerns, adding that a 10-foot corridor would allow bike riders to safely travel along the path in both directions.

Other questions revolved around how long property owners' ability to get in and out of their driveways would be restricted during construction.

"We're not quite there yet," Pratt said, adding, "We're very aware this is going to be a challenging project. We will maintain (access from) your driveways to the extent that we possibly can."

Pratt also noted that this Wednesday's hearing was unlikely to be the last one held on the project, as design plans are still in development, and construction is still a couple of years away.