On February 24th, over 50 community members gathered in Grand Marais for the third meeting of Highway 61 Revisited, a process for envisioning a redesign of the Highway 61 corridor through Grand Marais.
The meetings have been convened by the City of Grand Marais after redesign of Highway 61 was deemed a priority by the city council last year with community input. While Highway 61 through Grand Marais is a Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) road, the meetings have created an opportunity for community members to share their vision for the future of the highway corridor. This has resulted in two concept designs for the corridor. “There has been excellent community participation in the process both at in-person meetings [with over 50 attendees at each meeting] as well as through online comment opportunities and in one-on-one conversations with property owners along the corridor,” conveyed Mike Fischer with LHB, Inc. at the meeting on the 24th.
During the most recent meeting, the design team, including consultants CJ Fernandez and Jason Aune of Aune Fernandez Landscape Architects and Mike Fischer of LHB, Inc., shared an update on the ongoing conceptual design process, including revised concept designs and the next steps. There was also an update on the Health Impact Assessment on the project, which is being led by the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic with the assistance of a community committee. The group discussion identified many areas that the process has begun to address and those that the city will continue to investigate with community involvement, including parking, safe crossings, street landscaping, and a walk/bike trail.
“A locally led community visioning process is not the normal way highway projects are begun,” says City Administrator Mike Roth. “This has given our community the opportunity to guide future investment in the highway to meet our local needs.” Although the developed concept designs are not final, they have been created based on the conditions of the corridor, within current right-of-way, and using appropriate standards such as lane widths. To ensure this, MnDOT District 1 staff has been consulted by the design team through the process and was in attendance at the meeting. As the project continues, the City will provide additional opportunities for the community to participate and refine the plans.
While MnDOT does not have a Highway 61 project on its current schedule, this local process has been an opportunity to envision design needs for the community to be ready when the opportunity arises for a project. The design team has identified the scope of a potential project and will be making estimates of probable project costs. The City of Grand Marais has made an application for federal funds to assist with pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure in the corridor and expect to hear in April whether they are successful. When the project is scheduled, a formal process would begin, starting with pre-design and finishing with construction which can take up to several years.
The opportunity for feedback on the current concept designs will be open until Monday, March 23rd at www.becausemovingmatters.org/highway61, where the current drafts may be viewed and an online comment card is available. The designs may also be viewed at City Hall, 15 N. Broadway, Grand Marais, MN, and paper comment cards will be available.