City begins to look at making 4th Street NW safer

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The City of Austin began the early stages of looking into how to alleviate concerns of traffic flow on one of Austin’s major thoroughfares Monday night during the city Council work session.

Concerns focus on Fourth Street NW traffic, which has come to light this year after the council agreed on a design for the new bridge the Minnesota Department of Transportation will build over Interstate 90 next year, and the redesignation of the Baudler Property to allow for businesses to develop the space.

During the work session, which followed Monday night’s meeting, City Engineer Steven Lang quizzed council members on what their concerns might be regarding the street.

For the most part, the council agreed they had very few concerns regarding Fourth Street NW, which is considered a minor arterial roadway.

However, that’s not to say there weren’t any concerns as some pointed to the difficulty of pulling onto the road, especially turning left during high volume traffic times.

“I see it more as a major arterial … I see little collection points every couple blocks,” Councilman Mike Postma said. “It’s basically impossible to turn left out of any of those businesses.”

However, Councilwoman Rebecca Waller disputed the wait time. Waller, who lives near Fourth Street NW and who travels it every day to work, said she’s rarely had any troubles getting on to the road.

“It’s not that long of a wait as people think it is to get a break,” she said. “Around 4:30 in the afternoon, it’s going to take a minute, but I’ve never been in a near-miss accident.”

The traffic volume of Fourth Street NW came to the forefront recently with the redesignation of the Baudler Property, which was advanced by the Council in October.

Concerns by residents in the area is that as businesses begin building, traffic volume will increase.

“We want to narrow it down and see where the concern is,” Lang said.

Postma also had a concern regarding pedestrian traffic in the area, likening it to video game if a person wants to cross the road.

“I’m seeing too many people playing Frogger, running out into the street,” he said.

Some have pointed to the new bridge alleviating some of the congestion of Fourth Street NW, but Lang doubted that as the design chosen by the Council is simply replacing existing infrastructure.

“It won’t have a dramatic impact,” he said. “We’re taking (a traffic light) out and putting in a replacement light. We identified one new turning movement that will help create a gap in Fourth Street.”

Lang stressed this is only the beginning of the process as he seeks more input on possible options for increasing safety on the road.

“We’ll continue to take any council feedback,” Lang said. “We’ll now focus on what options are there, what is the cost, what does it look like to make left turning movement better.”

State Aid Street Designation

Also during the work session, the Council heard from Assistant City Engineer Mitch Wenum about Street Aid Designation.

Through MnDOT, cities in Minnesota can designate 20% of streets to be part of Street Aid Designation, which MnDOT then funds any work to these roads.

Generally, roads that are designated are high-traffic roads and built to higher standards.

Wenum reported to the Council Monday, however, that the street miles from 2020 don’t add up and correlate with this year’s miles. This year’s numbers total 24.29 miles costing the City around $23,000 in funding from the state’s allowance of $1.4 million the city receives now.

“We’ll miss that $23,000, but over time we will go back up to where we were,” Wenum said.

As to why the decline from 25.74 miles to 24.29 miles, Wenum said he guessed it might have to do with flood acquisitions over the years along the rivers that result in loss of some roads.

The next steps will now determine which streets, based on traffic volume, will be added to the State Aid Street Designation in order to bring that number up to where it has been.

Another update will be provided at an upcoming meeting.

In other news:

• The City Council passed a resolution to set a public hearing on the 5-year Capital Improvement plan for Dec. 20. The City is requesting $158,321,300 in federal and state funding for five years from 2022-2026, and will be put toward a number of projects including the airport, treatment plants, street construction and vehicle replacement.

• The City has settled the final assessment objection out of three objections to come out of a 2016 Fourth Street SW project. This officially brings the project to an end.