In the year 2020: Controversial West Lake Drive reconstruction slated to begin next summer
Though it's been more than 60 years since the portion of old State Highway 59 along the north side of Little Detroit Lake was turned over to Becker County and became part of the city's West Lake Drive corridor, the old highway's concrete base has remained part of the roadway's underpinnings — until now.
Becker County and the City of Detroit Lakes are in the process of hammering out the final details of a cooperative agreement that will result in the complete reconstruction of the portion of West Lake Drive lying between Legion Road and County Highway 6.
This segment of West Lake, which also forms part of County Highway 22, is scheduled for reconstruction in the summer of 2020, as a joint city-county project.
According to City Engineer Jon Pratt, there are four main aspects to the project:
• Complete reconstruction of the roadway, all the way down to the road bed.
"The road is shot," he said. "It has been overlaid multiple times, and it's in rough shape."
• Construction of a parallel, 10-foot-wide multi use trail on the lake side of the roadway.
This will result in a shift of the roadway corridor away from the lake to accommodate the new trail; Pratt says that the shift will move the roadway anywhere between 6 and 12 feet away from the lakeshore.
• Installation of a new stormwater collection and treatment system.
"Currently, the runoff (from the road) goes directly into the lake," he said. "This will be an innovative system of underground chambers that will infiltrate the stormwater we collect back into the ground and prevent any pollutants from entering the lake."
• Relocation of some electric, phone and cable utilities.
"All existing overhead electric lines will go underground," Pratt said.
The project is estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $3.4 million, with funding to come from a combination of federal and state transportation aid, a MnDOT-administered, federally funded Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant, and Becker County's SMART (Safe, Multimodal, Active, Responsible Transportation) tax.
County Highway Engineer Jim Olson noted that the SMART tax is a local option sales tax that must specifically be used to fund county road projects. Since its implementation in 2014, the tax has raised over $10 million for road improvements throughout the county.
The TAP grant, meanwhile, was specifically awarded for construction of the multi-use trail as part of the overall road project.
"The (TAP) grant must only be used for construction of the trail, and related stormwater improvements," said Pratt, adding that the total grant was for $325,000.
What all this means, he added, is that the homeowners along this stretch of roadway will not be required to pay any special property tax assessments to fund the project — in fact, some of them will be compensated for acquisition of the necessary right-of-way to complete it — but that doesn't mean it's lacking in controversy.
June 1, city and county officials met with the homeowners along the aforementioned stretch of road to discuss some concerns that the residents had regarding the plan.
"Our common goal (as homeowners) is to reduce the size and scope of the project," said Bonnie Juma who, along with fellow West Lake Drive resident Julie Herman, facilitated the early morning gathering at the Spitfire Bar & Grill.
Besides Pratt and Olson, the meeting was attended by City Administrator Kelcey Klemm; City Aldermen Bruce Imholte, Natalie Bly and Ron Zeman; and County Commissioner John Okeson, along with Juma, Herman and about 30 other West Lake Drive residents.
Juma noted that the group would like to see the width of the proposed corridor — including road, curb and gutter, multi-use trail and the grass buffer between them — reduced by at least 2, or preferably, as much as 4 feet.
"It's a county road, so it's ultimately a county decision," Pratt said, but added that while certain state and federal design standards must be adhered to, some modifications to the project to accommodate the residents' wishes was possible.
Olson noted that in some cases, the standard traffic lane size of 12 feet can be reduced to 11 or 11.5 feet, which can have a "traffic calming effect" (i.e., slower speeds) — but ultimately, the safety of motorists, bikers and pedestrians is paramount.
"It's a balance," he said, noting that the ultimate goal is to reach a generally acceptable compromise.