A Community Priority – the History of the Highway 61 Project in Grand Marais

For years, even decades, the Grand Marais City Council has been hearing community concerns about the unsafe crossings on Highway 61. Doing something about that serious challenge has consistently been placed on their list of priorities.

Six years ago, the City of Grand Marais initiated a process to broadly engage the community and hear the community’s needs and interests around Highway 61, which included: safe pedestrian crossings, traffic safety, pedestrian accessibility, parking, and storm water management. This proactive approach enabled the City to successfully apply for funds to assist with the project. It was done so, in part, to make sure that when Highway 61 was rebuilt through our community, it would be done so in a manner that would truly be in our community’s interests, and not just another cookie-cutter highway project.

Throughout the six-year process, there have been multiple public convenings and meetings, open houses, and numerous opportunities for community members to help chart a vision for Highway 61 that reflects our community’s needs and priorities. The reason for the engagement, and the large public response that resulted from the engagement, makes sense when you think about it – Highway 61 is truly the physical heart of our community. Both MnDOT and community leaders engaged in this effort have heard loud and clear that Highway 61 shouldn’t be a barrier but rather a connector, no matter if you are a child or senior on foot or a driver trying to make your way through town in a large truck. Citizens have also made it abundantly clear that Highway 61 should be something more than just another highway cutting through yet another Minnesota town – it should reflect the truly special place that Grand Marais is.

The most recent open house on the Highway 61 reconstruction project made clear not only the importance of this project to our community, but also the community engagement that has brought us to this point. Roughly 90 residents attended the meeting with the vast majority being satisfied with the process and supportive of moving forward. As with any community project of any size and scope, there will always be different ideas and disagreement over approaches – that’s always to be expected and this project will not be an exception. However, the large amount of support and satisfaction that exists is testament to the process that has taken place and the importance to our community of finally fixing what we have long known to be a serious challenge to how people get around and through town.

Project construction on Highway 61 will start in 2019 and we want it to be the best it can be for our community – today and for decades to come.

If you are interested in hearing about future project updates or input opportunities, please sign up for our local project email list at http://eepurl.com/dnRzq1 or notify City Hall at cityhall@boreal.org or 218-387-1848.

We want to express our sincere thanks to the community for your involvement in making this a truly community-focused project with over 1000 interactions and input. We would also like to thank the Grand Marais City Council for their continued leadership on this important project.

 

Signed,

City of Grand Marais
Cook County Chamber of Commerce
Cook County/Grand Marais EDA
Sawtooth Mountain Clinic
Visit Cook County
Frances Jarchow, Community Member
Ron Piercy, Yellow Bird Fine Art
Cara and Paul Sporn, My Sister’s Place
Maren Webb, Safe Routes to School

 

 

Help Plan U.S. Bicycle Route 41 – June 16th 4 pm

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The Minnesota Department of Transportation is working in partnership with communities and bicyclists from Grand Portage to Saint Paul to identify, designate and promote a new bicycle route: U.S. Bicycle Route 41. Once completed, the bicycle route will connect existing roads and trails between Saint Paul and Grand Portage State Park.

Participate in the Tofte open house next week to help refine the draft route, name the route, engage in conversations about bicycling and more! There will be a brief presentation followed by an open house with activities to gather your input. Kids activities and light refreshments provided.

Thursday, June 16th, 4-6 pm
Bluefin Bay Resort, Tofte Room
7192 W Hwy 61, Tofte, MN

Can’t make it? Learn more and provide your feedback online at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/bike/usbr41/.

Your Feedback Requested on Highway 61 Concept Designs

6D 3rd Highway 61 Redesign Meeting 131 resized

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.