Watertown council begins wrestling with how to reconstruct busiest intersection

The Watertown city council began discussing on Monday the best way to reconstruct the intersection of Territorial Street and Lewis Avenue in relation to the proposed 2014 bridge replacement. The county has told the city the intersection cannot remain a four-way stop after reconstruction, so the council initially favors a roundabout over a two-way stop. A Roundabout would likely force the removal of the NAPA store, seen in the backround.

The Watertown city council began discussing on Monday the best way to reconstruct the intersection of Territorial Street and Lewis Avenue in relation to the proposed 2014 bridge replacement. The county has told the city the intersection cannot remain a four-way stop after reconstruction, so the council initially favors a roundabout over a two-way stop. A Roundabout would likely force the removal of the NAPA store, seen in the backround.

The reconstruction of Watertown’s Territorial Street bridge is still roughly two years away, but the city council is already beginning to wrestle with questions as to how the bridge project will affect related work at the intersection of Territorial Street and Lewis Avenue.

The council addressed those concerns during a workshop on Monday, Aug. 13, when it weighed two potential options, including a roundabout that would likely force the removal of the NAPA Auto Parts store on the northeast corner of the intersection. The city is planning to reconstruct that particular intersection in an effort to improve traffic flow at the city’s busiest intersection.

There are still numerous factors outside the city’s control that will affect the bridge project and ultimately the intersection as well, but one thing appears certain: the intersection will not remain as it is now. City administrator Luke Fischer said Carver County officials have informed the city that the intersection will not be allowed to remain a four-way stop when it is reconstructed.

Based on the county’s current traffic standards, the intersection does not warrant a four-way stop. Fischer said the county would not remove the current stop signs on Territorial Street — otherwise known as County Highway 10 — but said that the county would not allow stop signs to be placed on that county highway after a reconstruction project in order to bring the intersection in line with its standards.

As a result, if the bridge’s current alignment were to be maintained, Territorial Street would become a through street, while traffic would stop on Lewis Avenue only. Fischer said the city council really does not view that as a palatable option, largely due to concerns with traffic speed through the intersection, as well as access to downtown.

The alternative option considered by the council, and the one that Mayor K.J. McDonald said received unanimous support from the council — at least when considering only these two preliminary options — is a second roundabout, similar to the one recently constructed at the intersection of Highways 10 and 20, just a bit to the east of the intersection in question. In order to facilitate a roundabout, the new bridge would need to be constructed just to the north of its current location, and consequently, the Lewis and Territorial intersection would also shift slightly to the north.

“There was a consensus that the roundabout was a very serious answer to the problem,” McDonald said.

However, the new alignment that would likely be used to facilitate a roundabout would likely require the removal of the NAPA Auto Parts store at the intersection, which has been there for roughly 30 years. Paul Swanson, who has owned the store for the last 7 years, said he would be disappointed if he has to close the store.

“If I can find somewhere else (to relocate), that’s one thing,” Swanson said. “But I’ve been looking around and it’s pretty slim out there. There’s not much for rent.”

Of course, all of these discussions and scenarios are preliminary in nature, and all depend on what Fischer called the biggest “trump card” in the whole process, which is what the State Historical Preservation Office will determine regarding the historical nature of the bridge. The county and city will first have to submit a proposal to the Army Corps of Engineers, which will in turn seek input from numerous other agencies, including SHPO. SHPO could make a determination that would place restrictions on the city’s plans regarding the bridge’s height and width, and may require the city to rehabilitate the current bridge instead of reconstructing it.

“They have a tremendous amount of influence over the Corps of Engineers and what happens with the bridge,” Fischer said of SHPO.

Ultimately, the city won’t be able to make any kind of determination until after it receives feedback from the Corps of Engineers, SHPO, and other agencies. That’s why Fischer said the council is trying to keep an open mind regarding the intersection, a project for which the city was awarded about $350,000 in Local Road Improvement Program funding from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“What the council did at the meeting is keep as many options on the table as possible,” Fischer said. “From an engineering standpoint, nothing is imminent. A roundabout is not imminent and the current alignment is not imminent.”

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