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A vision for Highway 61: Residents give input on corridor's future

Landscape architect Jason Aune speaks with Two Harbors resident Jenna Udenberg about concerns with the Minnesota Highway 61 corridor redesign in the works at the transportation plan meeting Tuesday, March 5. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)1 / 2
Two Harbors residents add comments to maps of the Minnesota Highway 61 corridor redesign. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)2 / 2

About 15-20 residents gathered to listen and provide feedback on a future redesign of the city's Seventh Avenue/Minnesota Highway 61 corridor. The third public input visioning session was held in the Two Harbors Community Center on Tuesday, March 5. Enlarged maps of the corridor were placed on the center tables in the room, awaiting the many sticky notes and marker drawings to come.

The city of Two Harbors collaborated with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission and Aune-Fernandez Landscape Architects to present the public with an in-progress design of what Minnesota Highway 61 through Two Harbors could look like in the future.

MnDOT is scheduling a construction project for the coordinator in the 2024-25 timeframe and has been hosting public sessions since August as a way to gauge what community members want to see changed, or kept the same, with the redesign.

"We're here to get your thoughts and ideas about the design," said Justin Otsea, Two Harbors city planner.

The landscape architect team, Aune-Fernandez, took the biggest issues residents provided at the first meeting in August and developed several ideas for improvement, like creating dedicated turn lanes; adding more pedestrian traffic areas; adding signs to improve wayfinding; building more off-street parking lots along the route; and more.

These ideas were presented at a January meeting, followed up by more design work and the presentation Tuesday.

One of the new ideas was the inclusion of community corridor spaces at each end of the corridor, with green spaces and parking available. These spaces would be used as trailhead connection points.

This design presentation was not without some contention. In the tightest area of the corridor, from the train bridge to the Burlington Bay Campground entrance, the design team presented an idea of cutting out parking along the south side of the street and incorporating more off-street parking as well as a dedicated left-turn lane all the way through.

Dairy Queen owner Seth McDonald argued against this concept.

"I know you're talking about congestion, but congestion is relative. We don't want to design the road based on a few heavy days in the summer which don't affect us 52 other weeks out of the year," McDonald said.

"The trade-off of having parking lanes on both side is that congestion," said C.J. Fernandez, of Aune-Fernandez Landscape Architects. "This is the most restrictive point of the corridor. It's extremely tight and there's only so much you can do with that space."

After the presentation, attendees had the chance to speak in small groups about the designs and add comments to the maps with sticky notes. These comments will be used to draft another design, which will be presented at a future meeting.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. 

(218) 834-2141
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