Tunnel under Hwy. 19 RR crossing studied. Huh?

Hwys 19 & 3 I was shocked to read in yesterday’s Northfield News (Transit study suggests tunnel under highway) that the Bolton and Menk consultants have drawn up conceptual plans for putting a tunnel under the Hwy 19 railroad tracks by Malt-O-Meal. When Tracy blogged about Hwy 3/Hwy 19 transportation study open house a few weeks back, I had no idea that we’d be paying consultants to look at a tunnel. This seems like a wildly extravagant idea and a waste of money to study, no matter if it’s local dollars or Federal dollars. Or am I missing something? (continued)

 

It would also require raising the railroad by six feet, laying a half mile of new track, building 1,200 feet of new roadway, 1,000 feet of retaining wall and carving a roadway through what may be bedrock… He said the tunnel — projected to be at a lower elevation than the Cannon River — would also call for a “creative drainage plan” to pump stormwater.

61 thoughts on “Tunnel under Hwy. 19 RR crossing studied. Huh?”

  1. Unfortunately not fake news. Once again, Bolten & Menk show us why they get the big bucks–they propose dumb ideas that are very often adopted by cities.

  2. I heard this presentation at the Council Monday night , and I must admit, it was almost like a comedy routine in the portion dealing with the tunnel.

    So where did the idea of the tunnel originate?
    There was a public input meeting before B/M coming back with concepts; in all honesty, if the idea was strongly presented at the public meeting , the engineering firm is obligated to deal with it in some way.

    The choice of words and the presentation by the engineering rep was verging on the highest level of wit/sarcasm, whether or not that was the intent, in that every descriptor showed how impossible the project would be.

    What is really irritating in the end is that any engineering consultant hours/dollars are spent on a project that in their own terms is obviously a totally unrealistic endeavor, in this time, in this place.

    They should have had the professional courage to say: even with a cursory examination of the existing problems, this is not a feasible idea.

  3. Instead of tunneling under the railroad crossing, how about having a dirigible lift cars over the tracks? There are not enough airships in this town. From what Jane says, it sounds like Bolten & Menk would be willing to do a study on it.

  4. Susan, I too, have noticed that Northfield suffers from a shortage of blimp based transportation alternatives. Should we form a task force? (Note to John George: please insert a “pie-in-the-sky” reference about now.)

    Seriously, how does Bolton, Menk, Dowie, Chettum and Howe get paid? I suggest we issue them “Rate Search” backed IOUs.

    1. Curt: They were selected by the council after a very short RFP process (short because of necessity because the entire timeline was short; announced in June I think , grant application due Mid-Sept.)

      My patience for looking these things up is getting shorter; I think the study carried a 50 K price tag . The council felt that was a good investment for the possible return of being awarded a large federal grant.

    2. Curt- I’m not sure how dirigible-in-the sky relates to pie-in-the sky. The former is at least a realistic possibility, though possibly of inflated value. Wasn’t it W.C. Fields that said he always wanted to see Philadelphia from a dirigible? I think we are at least as valuable and scenic as Philadelphia.

    3. Curt you wrote,

      “Susan, I too, have noticed that Northfield suffers from a shortage of blimp based transportation alternatives. Should we form a task force?”

      I’ll join, but I may need to file a minority report. I am convinced that rigid airships are more appropriate to Northfield’s historical character. Besides, you can save money by filling them with cheap, renewable hydrogen.

    4. Curt you wrote,

      “Susan, I too, have noticed that Northfield suffers from a shortage of blimp based transportation alternatives. Should we form a task force?”

      I’ll join you two – but only if I get to file a minority report. I strongly believe that rigid airships would be more in keeping with Northfield’s historical character. Besides, we can save money by filling them with cheap, renewable hydrogen – or even methane, collected sustainably from local cows.

  5. I’m not sure who is asking for the rail-related tunnel or how it would work. I do encourage folks to look at the study web site.

    Some of the other ideas are more practical, such as ped bridges near Malt O Meal and over 3 near 2nd St. The bridges don’t seem to accommodate bikes very well, though.

    There are other low-cost features that I think should be considered: filling in gaps in the sidewalk network; signal improvements such as a leading pedestrian interval; and loop detectors in the pavement at intersections that would allow cyclists to trigger the lights when on the road.

    Note the public can weigh in again on Aug. 26, 7 pm, at the armory.

  6. This seems like a wildly extravagant idea and a waste of money to study, no matter if it’s local dollars or Federal dollars. Or am I missing something?

    I agree, and if this is part of the multimodal integration study (the article was not clear), the study was paid for by local money. You can note Jim Pokorney’s dissent on paying for that study. If it is part of that study, I’m not at all clear why — my impression was that it was for pedestrian/bicycle access and crossing. Ironically, those trains coming through are about the only thing that slows down traffic on 19 enough to make it safe to cross!

    There are other low-cost features that I think should be considered: filling in gaps in the sidewalk network […]

    The opportunity cost issue is an important one. I wonder how many linear miles of sidewalk the cost of that tunnel could buy…

  7. Earlier, I unsuccessfully attempted to link to a Simpson’s video which suggests that there is nothing like a genuine, bona fide, electrified, six car monorail. Here’s another try:

  8. Raising the railroad six feet, and laying a half mile of new track.

    Think about that for a minute, and the engineering and costs involved… the track is really not the issue, but raising the track right of way, and making it strong enough to support the weight requirements…

    This is not simple, or cheap.

    Picture the location of the current crossing, then walk 1,320 feet in each direction. Soon, you have to start thinking about how that will impact the crossing behind the Q block, and the one at second.

    As you elevate, and realign, these crossings will need to be adjusted. The cost will continue to domino, as the whole trackage will need to be looked at to make a crossing change work.

    You might as well go for the federal grant to make silent crossings a possibility all the way through town.

    Moving the cars is much easier to move than moving the trackage and trains.

    It would be cheaper to go over the train than under them.

    This has to be tens of millions of dollars, and a really silly idea.

    Wouldn’t it be cheaper to consider building the bridge discussed over the river at Jefferson Parkway, to reduce the traffic on 19, as well as a bypass ring road to the north (320th? )to connect with Hwy 47… This would reduce the truck traffic.

    1. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to consider building the bridge discussed over the river at Jefferson Parkway, to reduce the traffic on 19, as well as a bypass ring road to the north (320th? )to connect with Hwy 47… This would reduce the truck traffic.

      John, I’m not sure that a truck bypass would really help. Highway 19 West has 5x more traffic than Highway 19 East, so I think most of those trucks are going to or coming from Northfield or Dundas. I do agree that alternatives like Jefferson Parkway for general traffic in town would help.

      This grade separation would only put more traffic on Highway 19. And what happens if/when the highway is ever widened to four lines? Do it all over again?

  9. What’s REALLY irritating, is reading about this in the Nfld News (from afar, here in Wayne, Maine). That article would lead one to believe that the tunnel was a bona fide proposal. Kiffi, your account of the presentation is priceless!

  10. Hmmm…Maybe a hot-air balloon, instead of a monorail, tunnel or whatever to get across the railroad tracks. We do seem to have a lot of hot air in Northfield that could be used (even in this colder than normal summer).

    1. Perhaps we should consider tunnels which will run the railroad, and Highways 3 and 19, under the city (and under the Cannon). We could then open up those areas as green space, pedestrian malls, and skate parks.

  11. As I recall, Bridgewater Supervisor Leif Knecht mentioned such a tunnel at a township meeting not long ago. Under Hwy 19 as a possible way of relieving congestion at what would become an even more dangerous area with trucks, rail and traffic generated by the proposed Gill/Prawer industrial park (456-acre annexation).

    Response to Knecht’s idea was an audible groan in the audience. But he acted as though it were a possibility. The railroad leaves no stone unturned, when something comes up to its advantage. Progressive Rail, I mean. If they can get money for such a project, they will try.

  12. This came up in a discussion this AM on Division St : Does anyone remember the big hoo-ha about why there could positively not be a skateboard plaza in Ames Park because of all the safety ( lack of ) issues on the Fifth St Bridge?

    So now it’s being discussed where the bike trail , going east , will dump into DT, and the current proposal is behind the buildings at 5th/Water … that would be on to the infamously unsafe Fifth St. Bridge!

    Maybe … just maybe … fixing the safety issues on the Fifth Street Bridge might be the most important single use of the TIGER grant money?
    Or maybe we have all just conveniently forgotten about that red herring.

  13. I was at the Park Board meeting last night, where Brian O’Connell described the shared-use path being developed on the river in the location Kiffi mentions. He did so in great detail. Kiffi, Dennis Easley made exactly the same point you are during the meeting, but I see it as most likely not a problem.

    The path will not go directly onto the bridge, but will instead merge with the sidewalk along the south side of 5th St. Northbound cyclists on the path will see a sign telling them to dismount before the 90-degree turn. I told Brian the sign should also remind cyclists not to ride on downtown sidewalks.

    While this riverside project is expensive at $250,000 or so for 600 feet, it’s an important development for a stretch of the riverfront that is currently not utilized at all. I support this as a way to improve our riverfront. One day these buildings may capitalize on their riverfront locations.

    Brian explained the myriad reasons why it’s an expensive project.

    1. … and in order to do it they will tear down all the trees between the buildings and the river, put in a bunch of ugly rip-rap, the river edge will deteriorate/erode, the buildings will fall in,and the bridge will never be fixed, although it is an absolute deterrant to any use of Ames Park!

      Thank you to Dennis Easely, for reminding staff of their ‘transgressions’.

      It must be all that bike riding that makes you so sweetly tolerant, Bill. I guess I should take it up again; anything to improve one’s outlook on dear ole NF!

  14. “Second to Seventh…Washington to Water…On the Sidewalks I will not bother…”

    So. since this is WEST of Water street, they can ride on the sidewalk until they approach Water… and they would not be violating the letter of the Ordinance.

  15. Yes… Patent Pending… Copyright 2009 – John S. Thomas All rights reserved. etc. etc.

    (I hear there are some good attorneys in town?)

    RFP to the city and the NDDC to follow… Maybe T-Shirts and Bumper Stickers? Paint it on the sidewalks?

    [= GRIN =]

  16. My other one didn’t work out so well…

    It read:

    SKATEBOARDING IS NOT A CRIME!
    (except on downtown sidewalks)
    SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SKATEPARK!

  17. Heads up! for anyone interested…

    August 26th , 2009, 6-7 PM at the Armory…
    final input session for the HIGHWAY 19/3 Modal Integration Study…
    … starts with a break-out session for boards/commissions/council, followed by a two hour public open house…
    Concept drawings available for viewing…

  18. For those who have not yet looked at the packet, I’ll point out the biggest highlight. On the option recommended by staff:

    The construction of this option is expected to cost between $15M and $19M, not
    including right-of-way costs.

    Now the grant is for transportation, so this is not a true opportunity cost, but let’s remember what $19 million dollars is. $19 million dollars is a new Safety Center and Library.

    For a fairer comparison, even the priciest option for pedestrian improvements on the North Highway 3 overpass is 1.2-1.4 million dollars. We’re talking 15x that. And for what? I am not aware of any accidents between trains and cars or pedestrians at that crossing. It is it really that much of an improvement to not have to stop for an occasional train? Is it really 20 million dollars better?

    Anybody who knows my me or my posts here on LoGro knows that I am by no means a fiscal conservative. If this rail crossing were a necessary improvement, I’d be all for it. But to my knowledge, there’s been no real presentation of why this a good idea. It almost seems like we’re just picking the most expensive solution to a problem that does not exist just because we can (or rather, might be able to).

    I see the packet asked Council for feedback on if they wanted to rail crossing pursued further. Did anyone attend tonight’s Council meeting?

    1. Sean- The only concern I have had about the RR crossings in the time I have lived here is if there was an accident with a long DM&E train at the 19 crossing, the crossings from 19 past Greenvale could be blocked. This could create a safety issue for emergency vehicles getting from the east side out to the hospital. I have not seen this happen yet, but is there a potential? Perhaps the DM&E takes this length into consideration when building their trains. Does anyone know about that?

  19. The tunnel expenditure would seem ridiculous, were it not for the fact that there would be more rail activity if the annexation of 456 acres for the industrial park in Bridgewater south of Hwy 19 goes through. There is a rail spur shown down the center, off West Armstrong Road. That would mean congestion and more waiting time at crossings.

    Township residents have asked about the railroad on several occasions, but never get a substantive answer. We are told that the railroad part of the plan is very much in doubt. I don’t buy it. I guess those who attend the input meeting at the Armory Wednesday 6-7 pm will learn more.

  20. Sean wrote:

    It almost seems like we’re just
    picking the most expensive solution to
    a problem that does not exist just
    because we can (or rather, might be
    able to).

    What he said!

    As Ross and I discussed on our show yesterday, the only transportation issue in this study that’s consistently been on Northfield’s radar over the years is the need for a safer pedestrian crossing alternative at 3rd St. and Hwy 3 (by the Quarterback).

    A traffic light might be enough there. A pedestrian bridge? I’m not yet convinced.

  21. Griff- I’m not sure about a traffic light at 3rd. & Hwy. 3. The curve in the road between 2nd. & 3rd. makes unequal length lanes between northbound an southbound 3. How to cycle these lights without creating a back-up of traffic is something I can’t imagine. I have often had to wait through two cycles of the light on southbound 3 and 19 as it is. Putting another stop light in doesn’t bode well for efficient traffic flow, but I think a pedestrian bridge there will be an eyesore for the whole downtown. It may be a little inconvenient, especially during DJJD, but I wonder about eleminating the pedestrian crossing completely at this intersection?

  22. Sean: re #28 comment … In the role of LWV observer, I attended the council meeting last night. The Staff wanted final direction from the council as to which proposed projects should be included in the TIGER grant application.

    The concluding motion was for these 4 projects: 1. A hybrid version of the proposed sidewalks/crossing Hwy 3, north of St. Olaf to Greenvale. 2. some sort of pedestrian bridge crossing of Hwy 3, between 2nd and 3rd streets. 3. A pedestrian crossing bridge across Hwy 19 at the Malt-O-Meal crossing, this proposed to be a public private partnership. and 4. Transit Hub ( Laurel Court) options A&B , from the packet,combined.

    Ms. Gehler-Hess, the City Engineer, kept emphasizing that Northfield would be receiving only the “scraps” of funding in this Federal grant process, and therefore it is more realistic to focus on the smaller projects, these four totaling approximately 5 million$$.

  23. John, I also have hesitations about a traffic light at 3rd Street, but I absolutely disagree with your suggestion here: “It may be a little inconvenient, especially during DJJD, but I wonder about eleminating the pedestrian crossing completely at this intersection?”

    The problem with a pedestrian crossing here is the combination of these two factors:

    1. Pedestrians are not assertive enough and not comfortable using their legal right to cross at an intersection.
    2. Cars going too fast and/or are not responsive to pedestrians and not aware that they’re required to yield the roadway to people crossing

    A pedestrian bridge is not a solution to either of these. It just eliminates the interaction instead of trying to fix it. I’m opposed to a traffic light because, unfortunately, the other 6 or 8 or however many from Hester Street to downtown have not calmed traffic. They’ve just slowed it.

    The solution (which I blogged about more extensively here) I believe would be better would be to make more clear to drivers that they must stop and make the road more pleasurable for pedestrians to cross. Better signage, a marked crosswalk, and a refuge island would be good options — and much less expensive than a bridge.

  24. Sean- Good ideas, if we can just get motorists to drive the way they are supposed to. I pass Malto-Meal several times on my days off, and I continually see motorists failing to yield to pedestrians crossing 19. Aside from putting a gate system that would lower to force traffic to stop, I don’t see how those crossings could be marked any better. There are overhead lights, painted crossing lines and pylons in the middle, but some folks drive right on through and force the pedestrians to take evasive action. Regulations don’t necessarily translate into actions.

  25. Yeah, John, you’re absolutely right. The pavement practically gets up and starts screaming — coming from the west, especially, you get warning after warning of reduced speed, pedestrians, intersections, and so on. And then you see the well-painted crosswalk and flashing lights. I think 19 is more hopeless than 3, so I really do think a bridge may be a good option there.

  26. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the transit study open house. I’ll try to look at the plan online.

    Regarding the grade-separated train crossing: a council member told me that this option was explored as a result of comments from people in the community. So the council was simply being responsive. Unfortunately, the Northfield News chose to make this the headline issue, when pedestrian and bike crossings are more the issue that has prompted the grant request. Anyways, I’m glad the train project is being dropped.

    As we pursue bike/ped projects, let’s not forget how much we as a society spend on motorized transportation facilities. The planned bridge over the St. Croix River near Stillwater is expected to cost over $600 million.

    Most bike/ped projects are relatively low cost. And almost every time someone bikes or walks instead of drives, they are saving themselves and the community money in a variety of ways. That economic issue usually doesn’t get mentioned.

    Regarding the transit hub: many of us are not thrilled about the location, but I think it would be good to have a central point to get on an inter-city bus. Also good to have parking for Mill Towns Trail users.

  27. Bill,
    I was there last night. The RR tunnel will not be part of the grant proposal, but it remains on the radar for the future. There will be more and more interference with traffic at rail crossings as time goes on.

  28. Regarding the transit hub: many of us are not thrilled about the location, but I think it would be good to have a central point to get on an inter-city bus. Also good to have parking for Mill Towns Trail users.

    My biggest issue with the transit hub is the size. It’s much too small to do any meaningful good. While I ordinarily would not advocate for more car parking, the sketch shown at the open house shows 30 stalls. That’s enough for the trailhead purposes — though I think still smaller than Dundas’ lot — but there’s no way that’s anywhere close to what would be needed if we wanted to see Northfielders commuting to the Twin Cities by bus. Since this is wedged in between Walgreens and and the river, the only place to expand is into a heavily wooded area of Sechler Park.

    And to what extent should Malt-o-Meal help pay for a pedestrian bridge over Hwy 19?

    Malt-O-Meal paid the bill for those flashing pedestrian crossing lights some years ago. Now you can interpret that as precedent that they should pay for these accommodations or as an indication that they’ve already put reasonable effort and money toward a safe crossing. I’d go more with the latter: it’s not Malt-O-Meal’s fault that the street is so incredibly difficult to cross. It’s Mn/DOT’s and the City’s fault that there’s nothing to slow traffic from the freeway into Northfield, and of course it’s the drivers’ fault for not obeying the law. Malt-O-Meal just added demand for pedestrians crossing.

    Since a pedestrian bridge over Fifth St/19 would be publicly accessible — and improve access to the Mill Towns Trail and the eventual transit hub — I’m not sure Malt-O-Meal should have to pay anything. It would certainly be a nice gesture if they offered to pay for some of the bridge, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for us to expect it.

  29. Good thinking, Sean.. I especially like your ‘all sides’ perspective on the MOM bridge… Starting from a centerline POV, no preconceived ‘prejudices’.

    That’s the kind of problem solving thinking we need: majoring in political science, yet?
    Think about it …

  30. Sean, good point on the parking at the transit hub; it will get tight in there.

    Ped/bike accessibility is really important for a centrally located transit hub. If people can walk or bike to the hub, that will minimize the need for parking space.

  31. BRW, I was talking about the Gill/Prawer plan with a man from Faribault who said he grew up in Northfield and there was a garbage dump at Sechler (where composting is now). Anyone know if the site was cleaned up? It happens we have an old county dump (Hoover Dump) near us. There is a toxic plume poisoning neighboring wells and nobody takes responsibility.

    1. Stephanie,
      I don’t know about the status of the Sechler dump, but this is an excellent opportunity to point out the validity of landfill host fees. This fee is in place on the current Rice County Landfill on 145th Street (also in Bridgewater). It was controversial, but a percentage of the funds collected — I think 25% — is dedicated to cleanup when the landfill becomes an environmental hazard.

      While the current landfill is technically advanced beyond the standard of an old unlined dump, its location on the banks of the Cannon River — upstream from Northfield — does seem to suggest that there will someday be some contamination problems.

    2. I have heard from several different people that there was a dump right where the Transit Hub is planned, on Laurel Court. If I’m remembering correctly, that’s why the phase 1 development of that site got broken into two phases, because there WAS a dump there and there had to be a source of funds to clean it up before other development work could proceed.
      At the time I thought it was really strange that there would be a dump so very close to what was the downtown, even many years ago, but several ‘old-timers’ said it was factual.
      And yes, Stephanie, the same people spoke of a county dump , in Bridgewater, with some relative closeness to where the ethanol plant was proposed to be sited.

      It’s weird that so many dumps are by rivers or creeks; being afraid to contaminate your own water supply is a very old piece of knowledge.

  32. Katy Gehler-Hess, City Engineer, has an update in last week’s Friday Memo:

    The consultant refined various concepts late last week and early this week based on feedback from meetings with stakeholders (MOM, Q-block property owners, and the Union Pacific Rail/Progressive Rail). These concepts were presented to the council on Monday. Minor revisions were made based on feedback at the meeting. These concepts were then presented at an public open house on Wednesday. The consultant will continue developing the TIGER grant application in the coming weeks for approval by the council on Sept. 14, 2009. Once the grant application is complete the consultant will focus on finalizing the study report to be completed in October.

    She doesn’t say how many people attended the open house. Anyone know approximately how many?

  33. There are now two comments posted to the TH3/TH19 Multi-Modal Transportation Study online forum that opened up 5 weeks ago.

    pjackson posted on July 30th, 2009:

    The intermixing of pedestrian, non-motorized transportation, vehicles and rail traffic has been a long discussed topic in Northfield – at least over the past decade that I have been a resident. I hope some actionable items actually come out of this work rather than simply planning to plan.

    In addition to the issues identified in the associated documents, I am concerned about creating a means for pedestrian and non-motorized traffic from west of MN 3 and north of MN 19 to safely access the proposed transit hub and trail system. This could possibly impact the Malt-o-Meal ped crossing if you also wanted to get nonmotorized traffic to the south side of MN 19.

    I strongly support creating a safer way to get ped/non-motorized access to downtown and to the transit hub/trailhead.

    I hope that the transit center and trailhead would be proposed in such a way that minimizes impact on the river system and the adjacent riparian zone. Furthermore, sustainable building principles should be a required component of the building project – they are truly no more expensive than doing it just to the minimum code requirements.

    Emergency responders will benefit from eliminating an at-grade rail crossing around MN 19 if possible.

    Margit posted on August 26th, 2009:

    I appreciate the thought and ideas that have gone into this grant opportunity. Thank you for the public meetings that have presented a range of ideas in a relatively short period of time.

    I bicycle everywhere in town and have for decades. I can tell you that I and many other cyclists do not bike on the highways, collector or arterial streets unless they are the only option. I would like to see a full network of bike routes on local streets, and I have shared a map of suggested multiple routes with Erica Zweifel.

    Adequate stop light times on 2nd St. at the intersection of Hwys. 3 and 19 would suffice to get pedestrians and cyclists safely across that well-marked intersection. Your assessment of the 3rd St. crossing is correct – it’s a relatively easy cross on foot or bicycle, because the timed lights at 2nd and 5th Sts. create long gaps in traffic. It is, however, not as safe a crossing for younger residents, because it is not controlled with a light.

    5th Street at Hwys. 3 and 19 is the pinch point for everyone – cars, bikes, trains, pedestrians. I would like to see your TIGER grant proposal focus on the public-private option with MOM, creating a long approach for pedestrians and bicyclists in lieu of Orchard and joining a bridge for MOM employees over 5th St. Another long ramp to the east would ease pedestrians and cyclists down onto the sidewalk/trail on the south side of 5th St. Clear markings at a grade level RR crossing, or something under or over (road or track) would get pedestrians and cyclists to the turnoff to the new pedestrian bridge, across the river, under Hwy. 3 and into downtown – where more bike routes (in addition to the wonderful 2-block route marked on 5th St.) could facilitate bike traffic to various east side locations.

    So, in summary, I encourage you to focus on the MOM bridge and routing to the pedestrian bridge just south of 5th St., and use extended stop light times at 2nd St. to facilitate safe crossings at that critical intersection.

    PS: St. Olaf Ave. is NOT a good biking street – too narrow and busy, so establishing bike routes on 1st and 2nd Streets from St. Olaf College would get students to the 2nd St. intersection. Likewise, No. Hwy. 3 is not a hospitable route into town for pedestrians and cyclists. Dresden Ave., Lincoln Pkwy, Spring St., and Linden St. provide a parallel and safer route to West 2nd St.

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