Bridge decision delayed until JPA is finalized

This rendering shows what a roundabout could look like at the intersection of Lewis Avenue and Territorial Street, as well as a potential median that could run across the bridge and along Territorial Street.
This rendering shows what a roundabout could look like at the intersection of Lewis Avenue and Territorial Street, as well as a potential median that could run across the bridge and along Territorial Street.

A city council decision on the Territorial Street bridge and intersection alignment hasn’t been made yet, but could be coming within the next several weeks.

That’s the timeline city administrator Luke Fischer gave a group of interested business owners and professionals at a Watertown Area Chamber of Commerce meeting last week and during a city council meeting on May 12. The city council held a workshop to discuss a preferred alignment and intersection design early this month, but the meeting didn’t last long as the council decided to wait to begin discussing its preferences until after a Joint Powers Agreement — which will dictate what percentage of the costs the city will pay — has been finalized with Carver County.

“We don’t want to decide an alignment because obviously the cost plays a big part in whatever alignment we choose,” councilor Mike Walters said during last week’s city council meeting. “We just want to know what share we’re paying before we decide on an alignment.”

Territorial Street — or County Road 10 — is a county road, so costs will be shared between the two entities. As of last week, Fischer said the city and county were still negotiating a JPA, but an agreement was expected to come soon, and once it does, the decision making process will accelerate quickly.

Two main options appear most likely at this point for the bridge, as well as the nearby intersection at Lewis Avenue, for which the city received $350,000 in MnDOT funding for improvements. The options include a square intersection — which would accommodate either a future traffic signal, a four-way stop or a two-way stop — or a roundabout. A roundabout would require a narrower bridge and therefore would come at a slightly lower cost, though the numbers are fairly comparable, with both estimates being between $4 million and $5 million.

The city council took public comment on the possible alternatives during its May 14 meeting, though it was expected when that public forum was scheduled that the council would already have discussed its preferences. Though little progress has been made in that regard, several citizens addressed the council anyway.

One of the primary issues that was raised was regarding the NAPA auto parts store at the northeast corner of the intersection, and whether that store, which sits very close to the road, can be saved. Both Fischer and city engineer Andrew Budde said that there are possibilities that would save the store, but only if the bridge is reconstructed as it is with no improvements to the intersection at Lewis Avenue and Territorial Street. However, to make improvements at the intersection, the NAPA store would be impacted whether a roundabout or a square intersection is selected.

Other discussions once again moved toward the possibility of a median being constructed along Territorial Street over the bridge and continuing east toward the roundabout at County Rd. 20. The median would prevent left turns off of Territorial Street between Lewis Avenue and County Road 20, and would be designed to keep traffic flowing freely through that area. However, Fischer said the idea of a median is only preliminary, and future discussions would need to be had at a later time on that issue if a roundabout ultimately is selected.

While the idea of a median has drawn opposition in the community, a roundabout does seem to be the option preferred by the most residents, at least according to feedback received on comment cards at a recent open house. One resident spoke at last week’s city council meeting in strong favor of a roundabout, arguing they move traffic more efficiently than a square intersection and that it is also safer, given that cars must slow down and pay attention. If a square intersection is constructed, it may require Territorial Street to become a through street, and the resident questioned whether that was a good idea when a pedestrian was already killed on the street about 18 months ago.

However, many other residents, particularly some of the city’s older residents, detest roundabouts in general, and strongly oppose the idea of adding another one. While a roundabout was most often chosen as the best option on the recent comment cards, it was also most frequently selected as the worst option.

“This will be a very difficult decision for all of us because we’re hearing both sides,” Mayor Charlotte Johnson said during the meeting. There’s passion involved in this discussion. … I want the citizens of Watertown to know we are taking this decision very seriously and we are listening to people.”


Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]