Wadena residents voice concerns over proposed Highway 10 expansion plan; final design expected fall 2023
Dozens of Wadena residents showed up on Dec. 8 to make their concerns known during the second of two public information open houses concerning the Highway 10 expansion project.
WADENA — The Minnesota Department of Transportation hosted their second of two public information open houses concerning the future Highway 10 expansion project on Dec. 8 and they received an earful from dozens of Wadena residents and business owners.
The proposed four-lane expansion project affects a six-mile stretch of Highway from 620th Avenue in Otter Tail County to 140th Street, east of the city of Wadena, and is expected to cost up to $60 million in preliminary estimates .
"We've been getting a lot of good feedback, that's what we've been doing," said Eric Schiller, project development manager for MnDOT District 3. "We've been taking individual meetings too and learning a lot about everybody's specific use on their properties and how they are accessing using the highway and things like that. And it's actually been able influence some of the designs we've been coming up with."
He also added the meetings will continue with property owners throughout the process, and said each piece of feedback helps the design team focus on choosing the right alternatives.
"The (Wadena) community has been great to work with," said Schiller.
This was the second public information meeting, held at the Maslowski Wellness & Research Center in Wadena, concerning the project. During the first open house, business owners lamented the elimination of some accesses to Highway 10 that could greatly effect their businesses , and, while some of those concerns were addressed in the updated plans, others were raised.
"It takes away our Highway 10 access for our outbound routes," said Duke Harrison, of the family-owned Mason Brothers, a wholesale grocer in Wadena. "It's gonna add a lot of inefficiencies, we've got 30 outbound routes, and what goes out has to come back in, so there is a lot of semi traffic that is going to have to get rerouted, which is not beneficial for us and the community."
Harrison raised objections about losing his access to Highway 10 during the open house, and MnDOT officials seemed to realize how important a highway access was to the business; making a Post-it note on the plans with "shared access?" written on it.
One MnDOT official gave a suggestion about sharing a highway approach access with a neighboring property, which Harrison agreed would be better than nothing. However, with a steep grading and wetland runoff area near the potential approach, it is far from certain if the design team will be able to make the shared access work.
Nick Polman, owner of Polman Transfer, a Wadena trucking company, said that, according to the current plans, he is going to have to move their whole main building to clear the right of way.
"We're going to have to move our building, it's going to take the corner of our building off," said Polman. "We've owned it for 61 years and it's a family-owned business and we've grown up there, and they are going to take my mom and dad's house out, and we'll probably lose about five, six, seven acres of land."
He continued: "Like my brother just said, we found out we don't own anything. MnDOT must own it, because if they want to take it, they take it from you."
Polman said he hasn't talked about possible compensation with any MnDOT officials yet, but he would rather just stay where he's at, if he is given a choice.
"We're here to listen and learn and hopefully get some changes so we don't have to lose any property," he said. Adding, a lawsuit isn't out of the question, but he wants to see if any changes come from the meeting before they decide what to do next.
Wadena Mayor George Deiss said the MnDOT plans have gone through noticeable changes since the first public meeting held in August.
"People aren't really talking to me, they are talking to the MnDOT people, which they should talk to," said Deiss. "We've made progress from what it was before."
Deiss pointed out some of the Highway 10 approaches that were eliminated in the first plans were re-installed, but agreed that some of the highway accesses in town still have some work to do in order to accommodate local businesses.
"I think in the long run (the Highway 10 expansion) will be (a net-positive)," he said. "Like anything, it takes time to get used to it, but in the long-term aspect for Wadena, this will be a good thing and it just takes time. But like I said, there is still some stuff here that needs to be ironed out."
One of the features of the Highway 10 expansion plans are the installation of reduced conflict intersections (RCI) at Highway 10 and County Road 75, and at Highway 10 and 640th Street.
Codie Leseman, a MnDOT consultant and senior planner at Sambatek, said RCIs save drivers time at an intersection in aggregate and reduce difficult decision-making by drivers who would only need to worry about crossing two lanes of traffic instead of all four.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, RCIs can decrease the potential of fatal crashes by 70% and lessen the probability of injury crashes by 42%. They do this by decreasing the potential points of conflict for vehicles at each intersection and changing the angle at which vehicles encounter each other on the roadway.
"You are only worried about one direction of traffic at a time, so you are not trying to thread the needle and make a risky turn," said Leseman. "Lots of people have differences of opinion and I understand that."
Leseman said he had heard from many truckers during the meeting who were worried about making a U-turn on the highway, but, with added paved turning areas included in the RCIs for those trucks, trucks should still experienced reduced time and potential crashes with the new intersections.
Schiller and other MnDOT representatives at the meeting said they would continue to work with property owners to alleviate their concerns, before the final designs for the project are made in fall 2023. According to the project timeline, MnDOT expects the project to be ready to solicit bids in November 2024 with construction slated to begin in 2025 and run through 2026.