The Headwaters RDC’s role in solving regional transportation issues takes many forms. At our core, we utilize our partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to work on regionally significant planning or development projects in transportation. We serve as transportation experts for our small town staff, facilitators when communities need problems solving, and planners for a safe and reliable transportation network. We engage local engineers, elected officials, and residents on planning projects aimed at improving our streets, highways, trails, and sidewalks. However you get from A to B, we are working on making it safer and more reliable.
The HRDC continues to build and maintain a strong relationship with MnDOT providing support to the agency and representation to the region. Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) contracts with the HRDC each year which supports transportation related activities and targeted projects to be implemented with a focus on improving overall health and well-being of individuals in the communities HRDC serves. HRDC staff supports MnDOT Districts 2 and 4, providing technical assistance for active living projects such as Bikeable Community Workshops, Walkable Community Workshops, Active Transportation Grant Solicitations, Safe Routes to School Planning, Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, Local Human Service Transportation Plans, and Community Outreach.
The HRDC works with MnDOT annually on conducting solicitations for Transportation Alternative Projects (TAP). TAP Funds are available for construction projects in the communities we serve. This year, the City of Bemidji submitted for and was awarded TA Funding. The proposed project is for construction of a nearly 1 mile long, 10-foot-wide multi-use paved trail, which will connect the Downtown Bemidji area to the roundabout at Jefferson Avenue & 5th Street NW in Bemidji, MN, which is scheduled for 2026 construction season.
Highway 197 Project
One of the HRDC’s transportation projects this past year was working in partnership with MnDOT to form a Community Review Panel (CRP) in Bemidji to receive helpful feedback for MnDOT on how to improve Hwy 197. Bemidji is one of the most at-risk communities when addressing transportation infrastructure and equity. Within the project area, poverty ranges from 27 percent to 65 percent and minority populations range from 14 percent to 33 percent with a large American Indian population. It is important to have pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation options for these at-risk groups to allow residents to get safely to their places of employment, school, and businesses since they may not have access to a private vehicle.
The HRDC staff facilitated and helped pull together a diverse team of community stakeholders, representatives, and businesses along the Hwy 197 corridor. The CRP shared how businesses and the community viewed the existing corridor. Through the study planning process, the panel prioritized business access, safety, and multi-modal improvements to the corridor. Over 12 meetings between community and project stakeholders, alternatives were created to address the unsafe corridor cross section and intersection improvements that fit these values. These alternatives were evaluated, prioritized, received public feedback, and eventually lead to a CRP-recommended corridor alternative.
Two alternatives were created with CRP input to consider intersection control differences along the Hwy 197 corridor. Alternative 1 included 3 Roundabouts while Alternative 2 included 1 Roundabout. Both alternatives included a number of multi-modal and safety improvements throughout the project area that maximized business access. The main advantages of Alternative 1, which was selected and voted to move forward on, include:
- Total Crash Cost reduction of 30% ($660,000 / year)
- Reduction in Delay of 5% corridor wide
- Over 40% reduction at Menards Access and Hannah Avenue
- Improves Pedestrian Movements and Crossings of Hwy 197
- Minimizes queuing on Middle School Drive and Hannah Avenue south of Hwy 197 during the PM Peak.
The HRDC is committed and dedicated to supporting meaningful public engagement over the next phases of this project.
Safe Routes to School
In the fall of 2019, MnDOT announced that they would be offering an Engineering Study Grant to communities that had previously completed SRTS plans. In January of 2020, Beltrami County and Mahnomen County were awarded these Engineering Study Grants to explore options to improve the pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure within their communities.
For Beltrami County, the grant is to explore the downtown of Bemidji to the newly built Gene Dillion Elementary. This study aims to find ways to reduce the vehicle traffic before and after school to both Gene Dillion and Bemidji High School by increasing the number of students able to safely travel on foot or bike. The map provides an overview of the SRTS East and West Segments near Gene Dillon that have been proposed to improve accessibility and safety walking and biking to school.
For Mahnomen County, the engineering study awarded to the Naytahwaush community is ultimately seeking funds for infrastructure improvements. One goal is to coordinate with school staff, the SRTS Advisory Committee, as well as other key stakeholders, to identify current travel patterns, pick-up/drop-off operations, and other key information associated with school operations and pedestrian/bicycle data. This will help understand issues, barriers, and what works and doesn’t work for their school. This study will also help continue to bring our SRTS Committee to meet as well as other key stakeholders.
Local Human Service Transportation Coordination Plan
Over the last year, the HRDC has partnered with MnDOT on updating the 2017 Local Human Service Plan. Working with a team of community stakeholders, this five-year plan sets forth the direction the community stakeholders want to move, with the goal of improving transportation services to the community members who rely on the region’s transportation network. HRDC facilitated conversations to create goals, strategies and initiatives that can be put into actionable activities to help improve the transportation resources in the region. The message of “Changing the Narrative” became the slogan as HRDC worked to create additional programs and enhancements to the existing transportation framework.
The HRDC has been able to sit on panels, lead focus groups and workshops, and offer support on transportation initiatives throughout our region through this planning process. One initiative to highlight comes from one of our Steering Committee organizations who recently piloted a transportation program called Wheels to Work: Fueling Opportunities to Thrive, which helps those who already own a vehicle with maintenance and needed safety repairs. This program is one small solution to a much larger problem, as it only helps those who already have a vehicle. The Women’s United project for 2022 has been to assess the possibility of helping Village of Hope, a local family homeless shelter, with the creation of a new transportation program that will provide Village of Hope residents and other homeless individuals in the Bemidji area with a safe ride to get groceries and attend court hearings and medical appointments. Programs like this are incredibly necessary, especially in the winter months in rural Minnesota. HRDC is excited to see how coming alongside organizations like the United Way in our region can help bring transportation access to those who are in need.
Lake Country Scenic Byway
The HRDC took on an additional role this year, helping the Lake Country Scenic Byway (LCSB) update their Corridor Management Plan (CMP) and update the corridor management map. The CMP Update for the Lake Country Scenic Byway provides the future vision for the Byway and serves as a guide for management, future development, and enhancement of the Byway’s intrinsic qualities. The CMP Update will specifically address safety, signage and visual management, identifies current and updated intrinsic resources and viewsheds, and lists projects for future improvements.
The Lake Country Scenic Byway Association is composed of members of the Park Rapids, Detroit Lakes, and Walker Chambers of Commerce, as well as individuals committed to preservation of the natural qualities of the byway. With this committee, bi-weekly and weekly meetings took place in order to complete the steps that were needed in finishing the CMP. The ultimate goal for the Lake Country Scenic Byway is to be designated as a National Scenic Byway. To learn more about the Lake Country Scenic Byway and to view the corridor map visit: www.lakecountryscenicbyway.com