Timeline emerges for Watertown’s bridge and intersection work

Westbound traffic across the Territorial Street bridge became backed up Monday morning. The city council will be exploring options for redesigning the intersection at Territorial Street and Lewis Avenue in the coming months, and the public will have a chance to provide input. (News staff photo by Matt Bunke)

Westbound traffic across the Territorial Street bridge became backed up Monday morning. The city council will be exploring options for redesigning the intersection at Territorial Street and Lewis Avenue in the coming months, and the public will have a chance to provide input. (News staff photo by Matt Bunke)

The Watertown City Council met with representative of city engineer Bolton and Menk and Carver County Engineer Lyndon Robjent last week during a workshop aimed at getting a firmer understanding of the process of reconstructing the intersection of Territorial Street and Lewis Avenue.

The council engaged in very little discussion as to the best way to reconstruct the intersection, which likely will be either a roundabout or a two-way stop. Instead, most of the discussion focused on developing a timetable for the process and how to best involve the public in that process. It appears the public will have two opportunities in the coming months to offer input.

City Administrator Luke Fischer revealed that while much is yet to be determined about the nature of the bridge reconstruction project, it almost certainly can be expected to begin in the spring of 2014. The city has been granted $350,000 in Local Road Improvement Program funding, money that needs to be spent by the end of 2014, or it will be lost.

That funding is actually intended to be used for the reconstruction of the intersection on the west side of the bridge, at Lewis Avenue and Territorial Street. The city has for years expressed an interest in redesigning that intersection, the city’s busiest, which can see backlogs of traffic during peak hours before and after school. On some mornings, traffic can becomes backed up all the way into and beyond the roundabout at Highways 10 and 20.

Ultimately, the city will need to decide how to best redesign that intersection. Options at this point appear to be either another roundabout, or turning the intersection into a two-way stop. If that second option were chosen, traffic on Territorial Street would proceed through the intersection without stopping, while only traffic on Lewis Avenue would be stopped.

Both options are thought to offer some help in reducing the backlog of traffic during peak hours, since the east-west traffic, which would no longer be forced to stop, is what currently becomes backed up.

At a previous workshop last August, the city council first began discussing those options, and came to the initial consensus that of those two options, a roundabout would be the better option. The council needed to come to a consensus on a particular option at that time so that the city could begin the permitting process, but it was reaffirmed by Bolton and Menk at last week’s workshop that that early decision was in no way binding.

The city council made that initial decision back in August with the understanding that the county would not allow the intersection to remain a four-way stop based on the requirements for such an intersection not being met. The council at that time decided a two-way stop was not preferential and could be cause for safety concerns, and thus temporarily moved forward with the idea of a roundabout.

However, Robjent pointed out during last week’s workshop that the county is not necessarily opposed to leaving the intersection as it is, pointing out that the bridge can be replaced without even touching the intersection. However, he said the county was operating under the city’s past indications that they wanted to address congestion at that intersection.

If the city does indeed wish to redesign the intersection — which the council reaffirmed during the workshop — a four-way stop will likely not be permitted.

Much of the council’s discussion last week had little to do with what intersection design is actually preferred, largely because the city won’t be able to make those final decisions until after the Army of Corps of Engineers comes back with its findings regarding the city’s permit requests, and until after the State Historical Preservation Office makes a determination as to the historic nature of the bridge. That determination will go a long way in determining whether the bridge can be replaced or whether it has to be refurbished.

Instead, the council focused on setting a timetable for the process, especially in regards to public input. The council decided it was not wise to seek public input until it found out what may or may not be allowed by the Army Corps of Engineers, so as not to waste time discussing options that weren’t even feasible.

At this point, it appears there will be two public input meetings in the coming months. It is expected that sometime in March, there will be a SHPO meeting in which the organization seeks input from local residents as to the historic nature of the bridge, and whether that should be a factor in its replacement. Sometime in April, another public hearing is expected to be held so that design alternatives can be presented to the public for feedback.

 

Contact Matt Bunke at matt.bunke@ecm-inc.com

 
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