Highway speed limits discussed at City Council meeting

Published 10:08 pm Monday, November 25, 2019

The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s district traffic engineer on Monday recommended adjustments to the speed limits on U.S. Highway 69 and Minnesota Highway 13 in Albert Lea between West Ninth Street on the south end to south of Bay Oaks Drive on the north.

The recommendation came after an evaluation of traffic, speeds and other factors on the road, said traffic engineer Michael Schweyen.

Schweyen said after reviewing the span, and driving on it multiple times himself, he recommends changing the speed limit to 45 mph south of Bay Oaks Drive on Highway 13 and then 60 mph north. The 45 mph limit would continue south on Highway 69 through West Ninth Street, where it would then transition back to 60 mph.

Email newsletter signup

His recommendations will be reviewed on another level at the state for speed limit authorization and then likely put into effect in the next two to three weeks.

Schweyen said there were several reasons MnDOT was asked to review the speed limits along the span, including public safety concerns at the intersection of Highway 13 and Sunset Street and concerns about speeds by residents living south of Southwest Middle School off of Highway 69.

The study looked at speed data from six different points from Highway 13 north of Highway 101 down to south of Sharon Avenue on Highway 69. The data shows the range of speeds people are driving.

He said at the speed collection point south of Sunset Street, approximately 11% of drivers were driving at 40 mph or below. Fifty to 60% of drivers were driving at or below 45 mph, and 90% of drivers were driving at or below 50 mph. The current speed limit at that point is 40 mph.

When he drove on the road himself, he said he felt like the 40 mph limit there was “inappropriately slow” and suggested it be raised to 45 mph to be more consistent with driver speed data and to encourage more driver uniformity.

For a separate data collection point south of Front Street — again at what is presently 40 mph — 20 to 25% of traffic was traveling 40 mph or less. Sixty-five to 70% were at or below 45 mph, and as many as 95% of drivers were traveling at 50 mph or below.

He said this data also was consistent with his own professional opinion of speeds on the road.

At a collection point north of Ninth Street, which presently is 60 mph, 30 to 35% of drivers were traveling 50 mph or less and 70% of drivers were traveling 55 mph or less. Only about 30% were traveling faster than 55 mph.

He said with the pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks adjacent to Highway 69 he said he thought it would be safer and more appropriate to move the transition to a higher speed limit south of Ninth Street instead of where it is presently south of Southview Lane.

Second Ward Councilor Larry Bakersaid he thought Schweyen’s recommendations would be well received by people in the Sunset Street area for safety purposes.

Third Ward Councilor Jason Howland thanked Schweyen for the study and said the recommendations made “common sense” and would address both safety and noise for the residents living off of Highway 69.

In other action, the council:

• Approved plans and the start of fundraising for a Marion Ross statue near Marion Ross Performing Arts Center, contingent on final approval from city staff.

• Approved a lot division of property at 2211 E. Main St. to allow for separate lot sales.

• Approved decertification of the tax increment finance district created in August 2013 to facilitate the construction of an expansion at Pro Manufacturing.

According to City Manager David Todd, all bonds and obligations to which tax increment from the district were pledged will be paid in full by the end of 2019, along with other costs of the development district.

All property taxes generated on the property will be distributed in the same manner as other property taxes starting in 2020.

• Adopted assessments for the sewer and water service hookups for residents annexed in the Stables area.

Roadways in the project include Belgrade Drive, North Trail, East Trail, West Trail, Elm Street and Country Club Road.

Assessments will be over 25 years at 2% interest.

• Adopted assessments for the sewer and water extension to the properties in the Stables area.

The project is being paid for with about $600,000 in combined city and county funds, about $1.8 million in grants from the Public Facilities Authority and the remainder from benefiting property owners. Costs are assessed at a per lot basis, with the final assessment per lot totaling almost $19,000. The assessments will also be over 25 years at 2% interest.

A few property owners raised concerns about the assessments.

One said he thought the assessments and the project violated his constitutional rights. Another resident who owned more than one lot questioned being charged for multiple lots.

Larry Wangen said he thought he had combined two of his lots into one lot, but Public Works Director Steven Jahnke said the lots were combined for tax purposes but had not been combined under an administrative survey and could still be sold separately.

Another resident, Roger Nelson, questioned the extra cost he might have to pay because of issues regarding the depth of the sewer pipes to his home.

The people who stated their objections in writing before the end of the public hearing reserved their right to bring the issue to district court if they choose.